Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Darwinian Weeding of the Gene Pool

"They've never been tested on humans, until now, and these [users] are voluntarily, or involuntarily ... doing it."
"We're seeing a lot of deaths."
Brian Escamilla, forensic chemist, California

"It is disturbing to learn that there are individuals in society who will sell non-regulated compounds ... in spite of their danger."
Professor [emiritus] Ed Knaus, University of Alberta, head of team that developed W-18

"Now we have another drug that we know is here, that is one hundred times more toxic than Fentanyl."
Staff St.Martin Schiavetta, Calgary police drug unit
Tests indicated W-18 was 100 times as potent as Fentanyl (pictured) a prescription painkiller blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths across Canada in recent years.
Tests indicated W-18 was 100 times as potent as Fentanyl (pictured) a prescription painkiller blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths across Canada in recent years.   Colleen De Neve/ Calgary Herald

When researchers at the laboratory of the University of Alberta developed a synthetic opioid back in the early 1980s, their purpose as scientists was to attempt to discover a formula for a painkiller that would help terminal patients with advanced cancer and others suffering dreadful pain, that would be devoid of addictive properties, while serving to lessen the agony of those nearing death. They patented their discovery, but there was no uptake, and it was shelved, forgotten, tucked away for posterity.

And then posterity arrived, and the patent expired and suddenly the powerful new drug that those
unwitting scientists had developed began circulating internationally. The chemical formula which had never been studied for its actual effect on humans, never excited interest on the part of pharmaceutical companies, no longer languishes in obscurity. It has arisen from the ashes of its abandonment to haunt social workers, police and the medical community.

Unscrupulous and often as well, unaware sources have been circulating the drug on the street and through other sources for legitimate sale, and its properties, lethal when unregulated and unprescribed for a specific purpose while being closely monitored is threatening to kill more drug users than the previous powerful narcotic, Fentanyl, that has so alarmed public officials. It represents a class of drug whose addictive properties and dosage strength augers ill for the unwary.

Laboratories in China appear to excel in scrounging about for off-patent chemical formulas, to produce a range of synthetic drugs. They have produced versions of amphetamines, cocaine and opiates to be sold over the Internet, an unregulated and virtually impossible-to detect let alone apprehend source of pharmaceuticals and narcotics whose sales represent a source of untold wealth for such entrepreneurs.

As an experimental medication W-18 is now available from online vendors both in Canada and overseas. It has a new and dangerous presence in North America and Europe with a reputation as a new recreational drug, but one of unprecedented danger to the user. The unwary could be put off track, since a Toronto company specializing in supplying research and law enforcement laboratories also offers Chinese-sourced W-18 for sale.

Police in Calgary seized a number of what appeared to be illegal drug tablets and forwarded them to Health Canada for assessment. The results were the identification of Alberta-designed W-18 for a handful of the tablets, that were disguised as oxycodone, a China-produced product. Fentanyl, the powerful opioid, has been responsible for over 270 fatal overdoses in 2015 in Alberta alone; it affects the central nervous system causing breathing to slow, stopping hearts, bringing death.

Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network
Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network    Fentanyl patches in London, Ont. on Friday Feb. 26, 2016.

As deadly as Fentanyl is, W-18 promises to have one hundred times the lethal potency. The prospect of this new class of drug being traded freely on the street presents a nightmare scenario of a hugely increased death toll, since the use of the dug comes with "significant risk of overdose and death" warned Sean Upton, a spokesman for Health Canada. Complicating the issue is that W-18 has not yet been banned in Canada.

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