Seven States Have Banned an Energy Supplement Nicknamed "Gas Station Heroin"
Tianeptine is reportedly addictive, causing withdrawal symptoms like those associated with opioids.
If you're not a coffee drinker, you might reach for an energy drink or even an energy-boosting supplement to get your day started. But energy pills made with tianeptine have now been banned in six states, with Mississippi set to become the seventh. The drug is not approved for any medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it's been nicknamed "gas station heroin," as it targets opioid receptors in the brain. That also means it elicits withdrawal symptoms similar to opioids when people stop taking it. Read on to find out where tianeptine is now banned, and why the FDA says you need to "avoid all products containing" it.
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Tianeptine is illegally marketed as a way to treat a range of ailments.
According to the FDA, tianeptine is prescribed in other countries for the treatment of depression and anxiety. But in the U.S., the drug is completely unregulated—and officials warn that some companies continue to sell tianeptine pills and powder online, in convenience stores, and at gas stations. They are often marketed as a way to "improve brain function" or to treat pain, anxiety, depression, and even opioid use disorder (OUD), per the FDA.
The drug is labeled as a dietary supplement under brand names like Za Za Red and Tianaa, Insider reported, with the latter brand touting "relaxing and energizing properties" and "strong soothing abilities." However, in a Feb. 2022 notice, the FDA said that tianeptine doesn't qualify as a dietary ingredient, and consumers taking the drug "may inadvertently find themselves addicted."
"People seeking to treat their ailments sometimes mistake a product as being safe because it's easily available, whether online or even at gas stations," the FDA says. "But availability is no indication of effectiveness or safety. This is especially true of tianeptine, an unapproved drug associated with serious health risks and even death."
Those who become addicted often experience withdrawal.
The FDA reports that calls to poison control and cases of "unwanted effects" associated with tianeptine are increasing, as more people use the drug to self-treat certain conditions or as an opioid alternative. But just like opioids, tianeptine appears to be addictive, making it difficult for people to stop taking it after they start.
If they do stop, they may experience severe withdrawal symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vice heard from tianeptine users who admit they are addicted to the drug. Some go through several bottles daily to avoid withdrawal.
Some people also abuse the drug by combining it with other medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills, per the FDA, which can cause symptoms like "agitation, drowsiness, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, slowed or stopped breathing, coma, and death."
Mississippi is just the latest state to take action.
So far, Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio have officially banned tianeptine. Earlier this month, Mississippi legislators passed a bill to ban tianeptine as well, Vice reported, and if approved by the governor, the drug will become a Schedule I controlled substance.
Under the new law, come July 1, anyone caught with the drug in Mississippi could face steep fines or even jail time. Gas stations and other retailers would have until that date to clear out their tianeptine products, per Vice.
Making things more complicated, there is currently no age restriction to purchase these products, law enforcement told residents of Columbus, Mississippi, during a city council meeting last month, per The Columbus Dispatch.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office reportedly arrested a man for robbing a convenience store, searching for Za Za Red. According to Hawkins and Columbus police chief Joseph Daughtry, two fatal overdoses had been reported at the time.
Regulators warn consumers not to purchase tianeptine products.
The FDA recommends avoiding tianeptine at all costs, even if products claim to treat a condition you're experiencing. In addition to issuing safety alerts about the drug, the agency also sent warning letters to companies marketing tianeptine as a dietary supplement.
"The FDA will continue to take regulatory action to discourage the importation and marketing of unapproved tianeptine products," the agency says.
If you experience an adverse event associated with tianeptine, you can report it to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program online, via fax, or through the mail.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.