Sanford police are warning heroin users that a batch of the drug circulating in the area may contain a powerful synthetic opioid that can cause near-instant fatal overdoses.

In a Facebook post Thursday, the department said it has received information that the heroin may contain the synthetic drug W-18, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Just 1 microgram – about the size of a grain of salt – can cause an instant overdose, police said.

“I received extremely credible information that someone in Sanford had used the drug and named it,” said Sanford Police Chief Thomas P. Connolly Jr. “I just felt that it was such a potential problem, if I didn’t do something it would be a disaster.”

Whether the substance that person had taken was indeed W-18 has not been confirmed, but Connolly said he felt it was better to alert the community to the possibility than to remain silent.

“If it is true, we’re going to have people die,” he said.

Even small traces of W-18 can be almost instantly fatal, police said.

W-18 was first developed in a Canadian lab more than 30 years ago, and was patented in the U.S. and Canada in 1984. The drug was never produced by a pharmaceutical company, but a Chinese chemist found the recipe and started developing the drug for consumers, according to The Washington Post.

The drug first surfaced in Canada last fall and has since been found in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Police asked that anyone with information about the laced heroin contact 324-9170 to speak with an officer or leave an anonymous tip.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH