When most people think of drugs, they think of drugs that are sold on the streets such as heroin, meth, or cocaine. They may even think of prescription drugs like Xanax or Adderall. However, there are many drugs that aren’t illegal yet because they are too new to know much about. Many of these drugs can be found at your local gas station.
Gas station drugs aren’t new. Drugs like this have been sold for a long time, but they don’t always stay on the shelves long. For example, spice (K2), a psychoactive herb, used to be sold in many gas stations before states began making it illegal.
Today’s gas station drugs are often sold under the guise of natural supplements, energy supplements, and even mood boosters. One of the most dangerous and popular gas station drugs today is Tianeptine–also known as “gas station heroin.”
What is Tianeptine?
Tianeptine is a drug that is used in many countries as an atypical antidepressant. It is also sometimes used to treat anxiety, asthma, and other ailments. However, it is not approved for medicinal use in the United States, Canada, or United Kingdom. The lack of FDA approval hasn’t stopped this drug from making its way to U.S. gas station shelves.
Tianeptine is increasingly being sold in U.S. gas stations in small bottles labeled “Tianaa” “Pegasus” or “Za Za.” They are being marketed as “nootropics” or dietary supplements that are supposed to have cognition-boosting benefits. Caffeine, for example, can be considered a nootropic.
Unfortunately, not all users experience positive effects. According to WBRC out of Birmingham, tianeptine has been cited in nearly 1,000 poison control center calls and three deaths.
Is Tianeptine an Opioid?
Tianeptine is technically an antidepressant, but it has a close relationship to opioids because it acts on the mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Mu-opioid receptors are the same receptors that opioids like heroin, morphine, and oxycodone target to reduce pain signals and produce endorphins. Some tianeptine users even report that the gas station drug gives them similar feelings as opioid pills do.
At low doses, tianeptine doesn’t produce a high, and it’s unlikely to cause psychoactive effects. However, like many other substances of abuse, people are trying to get high on the drug by taking huge doses. The drug also wears off quickly which can encourage drug users to take even more of the drug to achieve a stronger, longer-lasting high.
In high doses, tianeptine may produce opioid-like effects. It can also cause psychosis, acute psychological distress, and overdose.
People who want to get high but have no other means to do so may try to get high on tianeptine. They may also use it instead of other opioids because it doesn’t show up on drug tests.
Detoxing From Gas Station Heroin
As if psychosis and the risk for overdose weren’t serious enough, one of the major concerns of tianeptine use is the risk for physical dependence. Long-term users have reported becoming dependent on the drug and having symptoms of withdrawal when they tried to stop taking it.
When a tianeptine user tries to detox off of the gas station pills, he or she may be tempted to turn to something more dangerous–like real opioids or even heroin–to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal.
There is even an entire subreddit (online social media community) dedicated to quitting tianeptine. r/QuittingTianeptine currently has 2.8k users who share their disturbing stories about, as well as tips to cope with, detoxing from these pills. Many posts discuss using prescription medications, like Xanax, Gabapentin, Baclofen, Suboxone, and even Phentermine to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
These posts are worrisome because several of these medications are also dangerous and highly addictive. This is especially true when these medications are not being used by the recommendation of a doctor. As a result, it may be possible for gas station drugs to be a gateway to a serious, life-threatening addiction.
Will Gas Station Drugs Always Be Legal?
Many public health officials have expressed concern in regard to the addictive and harmful properties of tianeptine. Like many other over-the-counter drugs that have been abused such as K2, it’s likely that state governments will begin banning the sale and possession of tianeptine.
Unfortunately, all manufacturers have to do to get their products back on the shelves is tweak the chemical makeup slightly. This means gas station drugs, although they may change, are likely here to stay.
While gas station drugs are widely available, it’s possible to educate teens and young adults about the dangers of these substances by creating an open dialogue in the home and in schools about drug use and addiction.
In the meantime, the FDA has put out warnings to consumers stating that tianeptine is an unsafe supplement. The FDA suggests that consumers should avoid all products containing the drug, even those claiming to treat a certain ailment or disorder. And, if you’ve become addicted to tianeptine, you should consider seeking help from a treatment provider near you.