SPECIAL REPORT: Legal street drugs

(Source: WTVM)
(Source: WTVM)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) –  As drugs continue to create an epidemic across the nation, there's a new legal drug which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

W-18 is the most recent drug hitting the streets across the nation. Now, drug authorities are fighting to keep it off of the streets of Georgia.

A chemical weapon, a recreational drug… but to researchers and authorities, the substance is a near sibling to opioid like drugs.

"This could be the next big thing that our children are getting online, legally, that could cause a lot of overdoses," said Sergeant Johnnie Ellerbee with the Columbus Police Department.

Sgt. Ellerbee says W-18 is a chemical combination in a recipe for a deadly disaster.

"It's very alarming," Sgt. Ellerbee said. "That this could be in our community at any given moment."

Authorities are already reporting the drug being found in Florida, seized in both powder and pill form.

We reached out to the COO of Teen Challenge, Brice Maddock who works with people who have become addicted to drugs and other harmful substances. Maddock tells me he isn't surprised another powerful mixture is on the rise…

"Once they get that high, they want to continue to chase that first high that they got," Maddock said. "So they'll reach out to this drug W-18, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and they'll overdose, which is extremely sad."

But how are people getting their hands on this new psychoactive drug? It's simple. Just a click away online and you've bought a chemical combination for self-destruction made from labs in China and Japan.

"Anything that you can get online, that is easy access for anyone, can be a great detriment to our community," Sgt. Ellerbee said.

Although authorities know of the W-18 street drug presence, its physical composure has not been widely researched.

Part of its chemical structure, the sulfonamide group, does not appear in other opioids, which is why many researchers cannot classify the drug as an official opioid.

"If its certain chemical make ups, like certain illegal chemicals in spice, which are just illegal on their own," Sgt. Ellerbee said. "Which is what makes some spices illegal."
But with zero clinical use, W-18 has only been tested on mice. Researchers from the University of Alberta injected some of the w-18 chemicals into the animals at a dose similar to aspirin.

They reported the mice stood up for about a minute and fell over unconscious and stayed unconscious for five days.  

"It's extremely dangerous and like I said, a lot of those who are heroin addicts want a greater high, they want to continue to play with that to get even more of a high and that ends in overdose," Maddock said.

"I have seen some sites where it is an opioid and some sites where it is not an opioid," Sgt. Ellerbee said. "I know it comes from China, and it's a mixture of a lot of things either hurtful or harmful."

With little research on the complete chemical effects of the drug itself, it's completely unknown if Naloxone, the agent used to reverse fentanyl overdoses, would even be able to save a person who overdoses on W-18.

"A lot of what we're seeing also, with the fentanyl and W-18 is that they are mixing it with different street drugs, like heroin, cocaine, and that's a recipe for disaster," Maddock said.

Which leaves us with one question: what if an overdose of W-18 were to occur?

"The only thing we can do is 911. We're going to take them to medical… it is the unknown," Sgt. Ellerbee said.

W-18 is still not considered a controlled substance in United States yet.

Although authorities in the Columbus area haven't discovered W-18 in their drug seizes, they say they are always on the lookout for harmful substances.

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