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Deadly synthetic opioid W-18 believed to be in central & northern New York

Ellen Abbott
ACR Health prevention director Erin Bortel (right) and Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler (left) warn about W-18, a synthetic opioid discovered in a Canadian lab 30 years ago that is cheaper and deadlier than fentanyl or heroin.

W-18, a new synthetic opioid, may be on the scene in central and northern New York. ACR Health prevention director Erin Bortel said several overdose deaths in the North Country have raised suspicions.

"There was a cluster of overdoses in Jefferson County this past weekend that resulted in two fatalities and there was three fatalities in Jefferson County since July 10," Bortel said. "Having such a tight cluster in a smaller more rural community is reason for concern and caused us to reach out to health officials to see what the supply looked like.”

The High Impact Drug Trafficking Areas of New York and New Jersey, a group of law enforcement and health officials that tracks drugs, advised ACR Health that the drug may be in the Syracuse area.

If W-18 is indeed being mixed in with heroin locally, Bortel said during a news conference in Syracuse, there are concerns on a couple of fronts. The synthetic opioid, discovered in a Canadian lab 30 years ago, is stronger, cheaper and deadlier than fentanyl or heroin. The other issue is is the overdose antidote Naloxone isn’t as effective on W-18.

"It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s just not as effective, so more doses are required," Bortel said. 

So, ACR health is advising individuals trained to use Narcan to increase the amount of the rescue drug they carry. So far, there is no confirmation that the designer drug has hit the streets of Syracuse, but Police Chief Frank Fowler is ready.

"I pray personally that it doesn’t arrive here," Fowler said. "But our antennas are firmly up. In our line of business we find out about a problem when a problem is in full bloom. So that’s why this is important to get this message out. Not just important for people at the table, but everyone that hear’s this message to take it serious and we are indeed taking it serious.” 

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.