As Central New York grapples with the fallout of heroin addiction, there is growing concern that local dealers might get their hands on another potent chemical, created in a lab.
“Synthetic opiate-like substances, such as W-18 and other drugs are surfacing in our region,” said Erin Bortel with ACR Health.
According to ACR Health, a non-profit community agency, health officials alerted them that W-18 may have arrived in Syracuse. A Message to the NYS Department of Health to confirm their concerns was not returned.
“Learning of this potentially new drug that is out here in our community is indeed alarming to the Syracuse Police Department,” said SPD Chief Frank Fowler.
While investigators aren’t sure how widespread the use of W-18 is yet, police in Canada know it’s being sold and causing deadly overdoses on their streets.
A spokesperson for the Delta Police Department in British Columbia said the so-called designer drug has been found mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine.
Dealers are drawn to W-18 because it is cheap to produce and potent. But, users may not realize the heroin they purchased is mixed with a much stronger synthetic drug.
Delta Police say the drug was created in a college lab in Canada decades ago as a possible pain reliever. But, it was never really developed legally.
Their investigators believe a portion of W-18 the size of a grain of salt could potentially be deadly.
But, since illegal use of the chemical only caught the attention of police in recent years, there haven’t been a reliable number of studies to medically identify the strength and side-effects of W-18.
It’s also unclear if naloxone, a treatment used to reverse the effects of opiates during an overdose, would work at all with W-18.
For now, Bortel is advising parents who pick up their kits, that multiple doses may be needed.
Just in case the drug has or will arrive in Central New York, Bortel is also encouraging witnesses to any overdose to call 911 immediately.
“This could be the decision that would cost someone their life. People should not be afraid of criminal prosecution because we have this protection under the 911 Good Samaritan Law that if they are witnessing an overdose…as long as there is not some other major criminal activity going on, that they are protected,” she added.
Bortel said suspicion lingers that W-18 may have contributed to clusters of overdoses in areas of Upstate New York recently. But, proof would involve more testing.
As more is learned about the drug, Bortel and Chief Fowler want to use knowledge as a weapon to proactively caution users and their families.
“We are indeed taking it serious and I pray personally that it doesn’t arrive here,” said Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler. “But our antennas are now firmly up about this substance.”