The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is sounding the alarm on tianeptine, a synthetic drug commonly known as “gas station heroin.” While some countries approve tianeptine as a prescription drug for depression, it poses serious health risks resembling those of opioids like fentanyl. Despite FDA warnings, this drug continues to be promoted and sold as a dietary supplement, putting consumers at risk of addiction, withdrawal, and overdose. This article aims to shed light on the growing health risks associated with products containing tianeptine.

Tianeptine acts on the same receptors as opioids such as fentanyl, morphine, and heroin. When tianeptine reaches the brain, it binds to the mu opioid receptor, producing the sought-after pain relief and euphoria associated with these dangerous drugs. High doses of tianeptine can produce effects similar to heroin, including a dissociative state. The perception of one’s mind being disconnected from the surroundings and body, similar to the effects of the anesthetic ketamine, is experienced by users. The widespread availability of tianeptine-labeled products in gas stations, online platforms, and other casual retail locations has led to them being referred to as “legal high drugs” or “gas station drugs.”

Clinical trials, case reports, and poison control centers have documented various adverse effects of tianeptine use. Common symptoms include agitation, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, confusion, nightmares, drowsiness, dry mouth, and nausea. However, the most severe outcomes can include slowed or halted breathing, coma, heart arrhythmia, and even death. Furthermore, products containing tianeptine often do not adhere to proper manufacturing practices, leading to potential contamination by heavy metals, microorganisms, or undisclosed drug ingredients. This lack of quality control increases the risk of adverse events, as individuals may unknowingly combine active ingredients, amplifying potential harms.

The regulatory framework for controlling market access to non-FDA-approved drug products falls under the purview of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Manufacturers are not required to inform the DEA prior to selling products to U.S. citizens. This authority means that the DEA must proactively detect issues, identify the responsible products, scrutinize their active ingredients, and conduct a thorough scientific review before designating them as Schedule I substances. However, tianeptine entered the market disguised as a dietary supplement, despite being a synthetic compound. It is also sold online, allegedly for research purposes rather than human consumption. The failure to clearly label these products for research and clinical trials leaves consumers unaware of their true nature and potential risks.

It is crucial to avoid using non-FDA-approved products containing synthetic drugs like tianeptine. FDA-approved drugs are available with proper prescriptions from healthcare professionals or over-the-counter with approved active ingredients. Consumers should be cautious if a gas station attendant, smoke shop proprietor, or online seller advocates for the benefits of a non-FDA-approved drug product. These substances may provide temporary relief from pain, anxiety, or increased energy but carry significant risks. Additionally, the unpredictable nature of these substances means that past successful use does not guarantee a similar experience in the future. Continued use of tianeptine or similar drugs can easily lead to addiction.

There are signs that can indicate a potentially dangerous situation related to tianeptine use. For example, unmarked powder in bags or products labeled for research or non-human consumption could suggest illicit activity. Moreover, tablets or capsules not contained in proper drug bottles also raise concerns. Standard drug tests available over-the-counter are ineffective at detecting tianeptine and similar substances, making them appealing alternatives for those seeking to elude detection. Considering the limited response time of the DEA, individual states can take action and ban the sale of dangerous active ingredients in products. At present, several states have already implemented bans on tianeptine sales, although illegal procurement through online channels remains possible.

If you are concerned about the harms associated with tianeptine and other dangerous substances, contacting your state legislators can be a meaningful first step. State-level bans on sales of such substances can help protect communities from the potential harms they pose. By exercising your power and advocating for stricter regulations, you contribute to a safer environment and work towards mitigating the growing health risks associated with products containing tianeptine.

The growing health risks of tianeptine, commonly known as “gas station heroin,” necessitate urgent action. With its opioid-like effects, potential for addiction, withdrawal, and overdose, and a range of adverse effects, tianeptine poses a significant threat to consumers. The availability of these non-FDA-approved products, often labeled as dietary supplements, underscores the need for stricter regulations and better consumer awareness. By educating oneself about these dangers, being cautious with product purchases, and advocating for tighter control measures, individuals can help prevent the harms associated with tianeptine use.


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