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The FDA is warning Americans not to buy or use a drug called tianeptine, also known as ‘gas station heroin’. Tianeptine is actually an old-style, tricyclic antidepressant that is available in some other countries around the globe.
For many years, this drug flew under the radar because it simply wasn’t that popular, but the past few years have seen a change. Since 2019, calls to Poison Control have risen every year, reaching over 400 in 2023. As a result, the FDA is stepping up its public information campaign to warn Americans about the dangers of tianeptine, aka “gas station heroin”.
What does tianeptine do?
In the US, tianeptine often appears in stores and online as a supplement advertised to boost one’s mood. Some of the brand names include TIANNA, ZA ZA, and Neptune’s Fix. In the US, it is not approved either as a drug or as a supplement.
Although doctors in some countries prescribe it for major depressive disorder, it has a few other qualities that most people don’t associate with antidepressants. Depending on how much is used and how, tianeptine can have wildly different effects.
In lower quantities, some people use it to treat anxiety and depression. Those people are usually just taking it orally. Using large amounts and injecting solutions of tianeptine can cause sensations similar to those of heroin, hence the name “gas station heroin”. In very high quantities, it can be fatal. It does this by suppressing breathing, leading to respiratory failure, coma, and death.
People who misuse and overuse tianeptine will have a difficult time stopping, too. Withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, sweating, and body aches. People also experience agitation, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. Long-term use can lead to result in liver toxicity and cardiovascular complications, particularly when combined with other substances.