Most gas stations today are like well-stocked convenience stores. Some stations, like Wawa and Buc-ee’s, even offer high-quality food and clothing.
The gas station is great for loading up on slushies and hot dogs and fueling a small army with wall-to-wall cans of energy drinks. But of all the things you’ll find at a gas station, nothing seems more out of place than the random assortment of supplements.
There are bottles of pills that promise “enhancements” in the bedroom and those that say they can improve your energy. One of the most popular gas station drugs today is tianeptine, also known as gas station heroin.
Tianeptine is being marketed as a dietary supplement to help with energy and focus, but it also may just take your life. This drug is associated with side effects similar to those experienced with heroin or opioid abuse.
Before you reach for a bottle, here are some important things to know about this dangerous supplement.
What is tianeptine?
Tianeptine is an antidepressant used to treat depression in some parts of the world, but not here in the United States. It is mostly outdated and has been replaced by more modern, less side-effect-producing antidepressant medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
In countries that prescribe it, the dosages run around 25 to 50 milligrams per day. In the U.S., people are reportedly taking upward of 3,000 milligrams per day!
“This drug and its branded products aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical use and have been banned in several states,” said Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “Tianeptine isn’t safe, but it is legal, which is why it hasn’t stopped companies from hocking it in gas stations and online.”
Similar to the controversial drug kratom, companies are illegally marketing and selling it as a dietary supplement, which doesn’t have to undergo any rigorous testing for safety as prescribed medications.
These supplements are commonly sold as Tianna, Nootropic, Pegasus, TD Red or ZaZa Red and promise to treat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as pain and other medical conditions.
What are the dangers of tianeptine?
While gas station heroin doesn’t actually have “heroin” in it, it does offer similar effects.
“It isn’t as potent as heroin, but many people are buying and using it so they can manage or maintain their opioid consumption,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Because of its addictive nature, it’s also opening new avenues of abuse for those who may not have a history of opioid addiction.”
Tianeptine works similarly to an opioid because it hits opioid receptors in the brain, causing an increase in dependency and an increase in severe withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it. Symptoms of withdrawal include stomach pains, fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose and watery eyes.
“It’s like having the worst version of the flu,” Dr. Kuhn said. “It’s very uncomfortable, which is why many fall into this cycle of withdrawal and addiction to try to avoid getting sick. You keep taking more to achieve the same response.”
Overuse has led to many hospitalizations and even deaths. In most cases, the deaths are due to respiratory depression, when your breathing slows to the point you stop breathing altogether.
Get help for your addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with tianeptine or another substance, don’t manage addiction alone. There are trained professionals who can help.
“The decision to manage opioid use disorder with an alternative fentanyl-like substance, like gas station heroin is not going to maximize your potential to recover,” Dr. Kuhn said. “It’s a highly complex problem that should involve health care professionals.”
Treatment options include:
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Behavioral health services
- Relapse prevention
- Support groups
Tianeptine, also known as gas station heroin, is an unapproved antidepressant drug in the U.S. that is being sold online and in gas stations as a dietary supplement.
Tianeptine is highly addictive and when taken in high doses, it acts similarly to opioids, leading to severe withdrawal symptoms, and possibly even death.
If you or someone you know is struggling with tianeptine abuse or other addictions, there are several resources available:
- Banner Behavioral Health: Call the appointment line at 800-254-4357.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Call 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities.
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline): Call 988 if you or a loved one is contemplating suicide.
In addition, you can confidentially call the Opioid Assistance and Referral Line with any opioid-related questions or issues at 888-688-4222. The line is operated by experts who can help you with understanding and assessing the signs and symptoms of opioid toxicity and provide instructions on obtaining, storing and using naloxone, an opioid-reversing medication to stop the toxic effects of these drugs.