Friday, April 12, 2024

What is Gas Station Heroin?

When you roll into a gas station for a fill up, you may be tempted to grab a quick snack or drink. If you do, be careful, you may be about to ingest something dangerous.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about the presence of tianeptine, which is also called “gas station heroin,” throughout the country.

Pronounced tai·uh·nep·teen, is being sold in products that can be found in gas stations, convenience stores, smoke shops or online. The products may also contain synthetic marijuana. One product that’s sold as an elixir is “Neptune’s Fix” that comes in chocolate, cherry and lemon flavors.

Last week, the FDA issued a specific warning about the product. It urged consumers not to purchase Neptune Fix or any products that contained tianeptine. The report stated that use of the sedative could cause confusion, nausea, increased blood pressure, seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.

The product is used and approved in other countries; however, it has not been approved by the FDA. That said, it can be bought online. A bottle of 15 capsules can cost between $30 and $45.

Tianeptine can also be found in other dietary supplements such as “Pegasus Silver” and “ZaZa.” It’s often marketed as something to reduce anxiety and chronic pain. It produces the opioid effect of sedation and is mistakenly considered safer.

Christopher Counts, a toxicologist at the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School says:

“The drug itself does have weak opioid effects, which is probably what’s led to the term “gas station heroin,” and that may be driving some of the use behind it. Unfortunately, since you can purchase it so easily this gives the impression that it’s safe, which it absolutely is not.”

Tianeptine isn’t new to the medical community. In 2018, poison control centers across the U.S. were flooded with calls related to the misuse of tianeptine there were over 200 cases of users between 21 to 40 years old. These numbers are consistent with the current trend. The New Jersey Poison Control Center has seen the age range even expand between ages 19 to 69.

Counts added:

“Many states receive calls and reports about tianeptine. It’s become particularly prominent in New Jersey over the past few months because we’ve had a sharp spike in the number of calls that we receive at the Poison Center regarding tianeptine, and part of that may be due to adulteration of this product with other drugs.”

Robert Bassett, is the Associate Medical Director of the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). He stated:

“In mild to moderate cases, there can just be subtle to moderate changes in level of consciousness and awareness. However, in extreme cases, it could be so deeply sedating that it could cause people to not be able to breathe.”

Bassett added that The Poison Control Center at CHOP could not verify how many cases of exposure were in Philadelphia, but it’s a situation that’s being closely looked at.

“One of the limitations to the poison control center is that data is voluntary reporting, There’s no mandatory reporting to us.”

In Maryland, a father told 11 News Investigates, how his adult son ended up in the hospital. WBAL-TV 11 News Investigates referred to the father, who asked to remain anonymous, as Tom.

“I mean, he was just crazy, almost psychotic how he was acting.”

Tom figured his son, who’s had substance abuse issues in the past, had taken something, but he had no idea what. So, he checked his son’s car.

“In his car, the bottles come up to the seats. There were probably 100 or more, … empty.” The bottles were labeled “Zaza Red.” He had never heard of it, and neither had the hospital staff.

Jimmy Leonard, the director of clinical services at the Maryland Poison Center, told 11 News Investigates that tianeptine is not approved for medical use in the U.S., but it’s sold in smoke shops and gas stations as an unregulated supplement.

“The chemical name for it is tianeptine. It is an antidepressant that has been used in countries that do not include the United States. Over the last few years, it was noted that it gave people a euphoric effect, similar to opioids. It actually functions like an opioid in high doses. It’s not illegal.”

Nine states have already banned tianeptine, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee. There is also an effort underway to have it banned nationwide.

Individuals exposed to tianeptine are recommended to call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Obviously, if it is an emergency call 911.

My question is, … if this is not an FDA approved supplement, how is it being sold openly across the country? Is the FDA bored, or just ineffective? My guess would be the latter.