W-18 warning comes too late, mother of fentanyl OD victim says

Petra Schulz's son Danny died from a fentanyl overdose in April 2014, eight months before Alberta Health issued a warning about the new street drug. Now she sees the province making the same mistake with W-18, an drug 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

'When we have people dying of dangerous drugs, it feels like our kids don't matter'

Petra Schulz lost her son Danny to a fentanyl overdose in 2014. She is urging the government to do more for drug users who are dying at an unprecedented rate as street drugs grow in toxicity. (CBC)

When her son Danny died two years ago, few people had ever heard of fentanyl, says Petra Schulz.

"He was one of the early victims," she said. "He died in April and it took until November until there were public warnings."

Danny, 25, was open about his drug problem, typically using opioids available on the street such as OxyContin or heroin, Schulz said.

"I'm quite sure that what he thought he was buying was an OxyContin pill. [Fentanyl pills] were at the time being sold as street oxy before the knowledge was widely available on fentanyl," she said.

"It was one of those situations that proved deadly for him because he didn't have the knowledge that could have saved his life."

Same mistakes repeated

Now the same mistakes are being repeated with a new street drug called W-18, she said.

This week Alberta Health and police issued a warning to emergency-room doctors and the public about an Edmonton-area drug bust that netted four kilograms of the synthetic opioid, considered 100 times more toxic than fentanyl.

It's estimated the four kilos is enough to kill the population of Alberta 45 times over. 

Which makes all the more frustrating for Schulz that the warning was issued four months after the bust. 

"People need to know if there are dangerous drugs in the communities," Schulz said. 

"As a healthcare provider it's, 'Do no harm', right? We do less harm if we warn people of something potentially dangerous rather than not warning them because we don't know exactly what it is.

Schulz, founder of the organization MumsDU, a group of mothers who are pushing for better treatment for drug users, said they are often considered second-class citizens.

'People are forgotten'

"There is not the same level of vigilance from police or Alberta Health. People are forgotten. I find it really upsetting," she said. 

"If there is a bit of tainted spinach out and three people get sick because of E. coli in spinach, there are warnings issued coast to coast.

"But when we have people dying of dangerous drugs, it feels like our kids don't matter."

Alberta Health MInister Sarah Hoffman said the delay was caused by how long it took the federal lab to confirm what substance was seized. 

Last year 270 Albertans, mostly young people, fatally overdosed on fentanyl. It's not known how many people have overdosed on W-18.

Although a PC MLA introduced a bill at the Alberta legislature this week restricting access to the pill presses used to manufacture W-18 and fentanyl pills, Schulz says the province needs to do more to help drug users.

"For example, opioid replacement therapies with methadone or naloxone are very effective," Schulz said.

"They're not very expensive, but yet in Alberta we have so few sites, so few prescribing doctors and such long waiting lists.

"If we'd ramp that up, it would go a long way and it would go to reduce the demand for these drugs."