Emergence of W-18 has health officials on alert

Fentanyl, an opioid that’s about 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, has been tied to numerous overdose deaths around the world. Now law enforcement is finding evidence of an even deadlier chemical on the black market – W-18.

Here are some facts on W-18:

What is W-18?

W-18 is a research chemical with analgesic effects that was invented by chemists at the University of Alberta in 1981 to relieve pain in a less addictive way. But because of its potency, pharmaceutical companies avoided the compound. W-18 has appeared more regularly on the illegal drug market in the last year, including as a secret ingredient in other illicit drugs. Because there are no published studies on W-18’s potential toxicity, there are elevated risks associated with its use.

Street Names

Beans, Shady 80s


The effects of W-18 on humans is still largely unknown because it’s only ever been tested on lab mice. A report in Forbes noted a grad student who once studied W-18 on mice, using similar doses to aspirin, said the mice stood for about a minute, then fell over unconscious – a state the mice remained in for five days.

How is W-18 used?

The synthetic has surfaced in pill form in Florida and pill and powder form in Canada. It’s also been cut with heroin and cocaine and distributed in Philadelphia.

Why is it so popular?

W-18 has been said to be 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl, a common ingredient in heroin. It’s also untraceable in a person’s urine and blood because there are no current tests that screen for it. However, since there has been little research conducted on W-18, it’s currently difficult to determine its potency or even if it can be classified as an opioid. Even so, analogues of W-18 are already showing up in North American crime labs, likely the result of surreptitious chemists changing the chemical makeup in anticipation of the drug being declared illegal.

Legal Status

W-18 is still legal in the United States. Canada is working toward adding the chemical to its list of controlled substances. Sweden banned it as of January 2016.

What can you do if you know someone who needs help?

Global News reported as of February 2016 that it’s not yet known if naloxone, the standard emergency antidote for opioid overdoses, is effective against W-18.

Fairbanks offers a variety of programs including: detox and rehab, outpatient treatment, long-term residential living and recovery management. Our goal is to provide each person battling a substance use disorder with the tools to identify the changes they need to make in their life and to give them the recovery tools they need for a substance free and successful life.

To make an appointment for an assessment, please call 317-849-8222 or visit www.fairbankscd.org for more information.