'Gas Station Heroin' Pills Are Being Sold At The Pump & Here's What We Know About Them

Vendors continue to market and sell this drug, even online.

Desk Editor, Texas
A gas station. Right: Pills, capsules and tablets.

A gas station. Right: Pills, capsules and tablets.

An illegal drug known as "gas station heroin" is alerting officials as its consumption has increased across the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When a product is easily available for purchase, people usually believe it's safe to consume. However, availability is not equal to effectiveness or safety, and experts say this is specifically true for tianeptine, a drug being illegally marketed as a dietary supplement that has been associated with serious health risks and even death and is being sold at gas stations, convenience stores and even online.

A report by NewsNation states that tianeptine can be found in supplements marketed under names like Za Za Red, Tianna, Pegasus and T-D Red.

"Tianeptine is not approved by the [FDA] for any medical use," an FDA spokesperson told Narcity. "Despite that, some companies are illegally marketing and selling products containing tianeptine to consumers. They are also making dangerous and unproven claims that tianeptine can improve brain function and treat anxiety, depression, pain, opioid use disorder, and other conditions."

Here's what we know so far about this unapproved drug.

Tianeptine reactions have increased in the U.S.

Reports of bad reactions and unwanted effects related to tianeptine are increasing in the United States. According to the FDA, poison control center cases involving this drug have increased from 11 cases between 2000 and 2013 to 151 cases in 2020 alone.

Tianeptine has potential for abuse

"Cases described in medical journals, in calls to U.S. poison control centers, and in reports to the FDA suggest that tianeptine has a potential for abuse," an FDA spokesperson said. "People with a history of opioid use disorder or dependence may be at particular risk of abusing tianeptine."

How does tianeptine make you feel?

According to an FDA expert, tianeptine users see this drug as an opioid alternative or as a way to treat anxiety and depression.

"Medical journals and reports to the FDA suggest that adverse events may occur when tianeptine is taken at doses higher than the doses prescribed in the countries where the drug has been approved," an FDA representative told Narcity. "Some people may have difficulty stopping their use of tianeptine and may experience withdrawal symptoms."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data states that the effects of this drug's abuse and withdrawal can mimic opioid toxicity and withdrawal.

What can tianeptine do to you?

Harmful effects that have been reported from the misuse of tianeptine include agitation, confusion, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, sweating, high blood pressure, slowed or stopped breathing, coma, and death.

"The FDA has identified cases in which people experienced other serious harmful effects from abusing or misusing tianeptine by itself or with other drugs, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines," an FDA spokesperson said.

For more information on dietary supplements containing tianeptine, you can visit the FDA website here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance use, help and additional resources are available. If you need immediate assistance, please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Fernanda Leon
Desk Editor, Texas
Fernanda Leon is an Editor for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on Texas and is based in El Paso, Texas.
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