Gateway Gazette

Statement from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner about an opioid-related death

Dr. Graham Jones, Chief Toxicologist of Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, issued the following statement in response to the death of an individual due to a drug overdose:

“The death of a male in early March 2016 in Calgary has been publicly attributed to W-18, a synthetic opioid that is many times more powerful than fentanyl. However, although the presence of W-18 was found in the deceased, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner cannot confirm it was the cause of death, as other drugs were present as well.

“In this case the quantity of W-18 was large enough to detect relatively easily, but a smaller quantity would have been much harder to identify. A preliminary screening test for W-18 does not exist at present and therefore it is not possible to detect in blood unless its presence is suspected. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner continues to work on developing a test that can identify small amounts of W-18.

“As well, in general, while some deaths are obvious, such as a large (if unintentional) heroin or fentanyl overdose, many are multi-drug and ethanol caused deaths where an opioid was present, but just one of a number of toxic agents (i.e. multi-drug toxicity). There is no easy “cut-off” as to what is opioid-related and what is not. This can further complicate determining the specific cause of death.”

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