Australian Border Force officials have made several seizures of a dangerous new substance called W-18.
Authorities have issued a grim warning over the street drug, which comes amid a new wave of deadly painkillers emerging around the world.
Australian Border Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg said the dangerous drug is “even more potent than fentanyl”, an opioid medication so potent it’s been nicknamed “Drop Dead” because a tiny amount of it can be fatal, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Fentanyl was also the drug that sparked a huge scandal in the Victorian ambulance service a couple of years ago, after it was found to be disappearing from paramedics’ kits.
“We are finding small incidents of fentanyl being seized at the border. It is a highly potent form of opiate, which is coming into this country,” Mr Quaedvlieg said.
“When I spoke to our counterparts in US and Canada recently they said we should be aware of it, and I commissioned some research and found, as well as our detections, there is evidence from state and territories police and number of coronial inquiries supporting this.”
WHAT IS W-18?
Contrary to popular belief, W-18 is not an opiate drug.
Created by a team of Canadian lab researchers in the early 1980s, the drug was researched as an analgesic and intended as a non-addictive painkiller.
Nowadays it comes in both pill and powder form, and cannot be detected in the bloodstream.
Since emerging on the grey market, subsequent research has found it has little or no affinity to the opiate receptor.
Adjunct Research Fellow with the National Drug Research Institute Dr Stephen Bright told news.com.au that W-18 is just one of many dangerous new drugs that are cropping up.
He described it as a depressant, as opposed to a party drug, and said it’s most likely those who used it would believe they were actually taking heroin.
“W-18 is just one of hundreds of these new opiates and other drugs that are being designed to be used as counterfeits. In the last 12 months, we’ve seen a significant increase in the drugs being sold as heroin.”
This, Dr Bright said, is a big part of the problem. People are dying because they don’t actually know what they’re taking, which can greatly increase the risk of an overdose if luck isn’t on your side.
Earlier this year, the Canadian government’s health department issued a news release that warned against the highly potent drug.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
Dr Bright warned against “fear-based campaigns” and said Australia needs to place a greater focus on drug checking and harm minimisation.
“What I think it highlights is the need for better early-warning detection centres, so that we can get the information as quickly as possible,” he said.
He pointed to the Netherlands’ policy of harm reduction, where testing services for consumers guarantee anonymity and legal protection to donate samples, describe what they believe it is, and get test results on what it actually contains.
“If implemented here, this system would give us unparalleled data on the nature and characteristics of the discrepancies between expected and actual drug composition,” Dr Bright said.
“Combined with forensic testing of police seizures, this monitoring data would allows us to see changes in the drug market and respond rapidly.”