Concerns growing nationally over ‘gas station heroin’

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 11:43 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Numerous products, dubbed “gas station heroin,” are being sold in gas stations right now that act like powerful opioids.

Anyone can walk in and buy these products.

The growing concern nationally is over the availability of an anti-depressant called Tianeptine.

Tianeptine hasn’t been studied for the purpose of addiction but those using it have described very similar symptoms as opioid users, says Dr. Shan Yin, the Medical Director of Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.

“We know that people have become essentially dependent on it,” Dr. Yin explains. “So, something that has been well described is people will start taking it and they’ll take escalating doses. Then they will try to stop but the withdrawal symptoms are bad enough that it just becomes very difficult to stop.”

Tianeptine comes from Europe and Asia but is not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration. That’s because it is mostly being sold as a dietary supplement.

“By selling it as a dietary supplement, it somewhat circumvents the FDA, in that the FDA does not regulate it,” according to Dr. Yin. “It’s somewhat complicated in terms of the law. But the FDA does not strictly regulate dietary supplements.”

One problem with some dietary supplements is that the user doesn’t always know what is in there.

“Something that we know that has been seen many times with herbal medications and dietary supplements is that there will be adulterants in there,” Dr. Yin says. “There will be other things in there that are not supposed to be. And one thing that is very common is, say you are selling a herbal medication for erectile dysfunction and when they look to see what’s actually in there, they’ll actually find Viagra, so then it becomes dangerous because you didn’t tell your doctor and there are drug-drug interactions and things like that.”

Doctors aren’t the only ones who are worried.

“I think what is concerning about this is that this is it’s not FDA regulated, this is labeled as a dietary supplement,” said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan. “Whether it is marketing, from the company, marketing from people that use it, or just social media marketing when it claims to be heroin-like, that is concerning for me. That means that someone is going out and trying to get that effect of heroin. And if you can legally buy something that even if it mimics it, that can cause the same kind of issues.”

The lack of clarity about what the dietary supplements are made of is also a worry for Synan.

“What’s concerning about this is this is a label to dietary supplement,” Synan said. “A lot of people are going to go in and think that this is okay. They’re going to think this is no big deal. This isn’t going to hurt me and especially if you can just walk into a gas station and buy it.”

With Tianeptine causing symptoms the same as heroin, an overdose is possible.

In that situation Narcan could be used on people to help revive them, Synan said.

“You should have Narcan, you shouldn’t use alone,” Synan said. “CPR is a big thing and we talk about this with fentanyl and heroin. Narcan may not always work, the timing may be off. You want to make sure you start CPR. Again if the breathing is slowing down or the heartrate is slowing down or stopped, you want to get that going again.”

Tianeptine has gotten the attention of states across the country.

Michigan was the first state to ban products containing the anti-depressant. Georgia and Minnesota followed suit.

Alabama, Tennessee has also banned it.

Last month, Indiana banned Tianeptine and then days before Christmas, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order to ban the anti-depressant as well.

These products are still available in Kentucky and online.

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