A nine-month investigation led to one of the biggest fentanyl and W-18 busts in Canadian history.
The investigation started in October 2015, when Canada Border Services Agency officers at Edmonton International Airport intercepted 100 kilograms of a substance used to produce fentanyl.
The sugar-like substance was found in four cardboard barrels shipped from China.
Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) took over the case and executed multiple search warrants in December 2015.
Two Edmonton residents, a man and a woman, were arrested on Wednesday and charged with a total of 27 offenses related to drugs and firearms.
At a suspected fentanyl lab in Leduc County, police found 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine, 4 kilograms of W-18 — a synthetic drug 1,000 times more powerful than morphine — and 3,200 fentanyl pills laced with W-18.
Officials then searched an Alberta home and found chemicals used to produce MDMA, as well as firearms and cash.
“This was a highly complex and demanding investigation,” ALERT staff sergeant Dave Knibbs said.
ALERT officials stated the investigation has seized enough precursor chemicals to produce 38 million fentanyl pills.
The news comes one month after Canadian police seized 2,000 fentanyl pills in British Columbia.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic used to treat severe or chronic pain such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer pain. The drug is commonly administered via transdermal patch, lozenge, pill or intravenously.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported that doctors issued more than 6.6 million fentanyl prescriptions in 2014, making it the most widely used opioid for clinical practice.
It is the most potent opioid available for medical treatment and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Illicit use of the drug produces an intense euphoria, similar to that of heroin.
Fentanyl recently made headlines after an autopsy report confirmed its presence in pop star Prince at the time of his death.
Fentanyl abuse has skyrocketed in North America. Nearly 300 Albertans died of fentanyl overdose in 2015 — more than double the previous year’s total. Nearly 500 Albertans have died in fentanyl-related incidents since 2011.
In the United States, fentanyl has claimed more than 1,000 lives from April 2005 to March 2007, according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. Most deaths occurred in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The number of U.S. emergency room visits involving the drug nearly doubled from 2005 to 2011.
Fentanyl is one of the most potent prescription opioids in the world. W-18 is 100 times more powerful.
W-18 is a synthetic opioid with no known clinical use. Like fentanyl, it originated in Chinese clandestine labs and has since been shipped to North America.
It was first spotted in Canada in 2015. In April 2016, Canadian officials seized 4 kilograms of the drug — enough to kill every man, woman and child in Alberta 45 times over, according to Edmonton public health doctor Hakique Virani.
Florida officials recently discovered 2.5 pounds of W-18 in the home of a Florida man. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for smuggling fentanyl into the country, but he was not charged for W-18 possession.
The drug remains legal in the United States.