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Tianeptine, or ‘Gas Station Heroin,’ Causes Intense Withdrawals And It’s Mostly Legal




A bottle of TD Pink, a model of tianeptine, a drug colloquially often called “fuel station heroin.” (Picture courtesy of supply)

A drug referred to as tianeptine, recognized colloquially as “fuel station heroin,” has been banned by a number of states. It’s being marketed as a dietary complement, however some customers are describing it as a extremely addictive opioid. 

Tianeptine is a tricyclic antidepressant used to deal with despair in some European, Latin American, and Asian nations, but it surely’s not accepted by the FDA for medical use within the U.S. It’s not a managed substance and is often offered within the U.S. as a dietary complement, nootropic (a chemical that improves cognitive operate), or a analysis chemical underneath model names like ZaZa Pink, TD Pink, and Tianna. It will be present in fuel stations or simply purchased on-line. 

Medical specialists say tianeptine capabilities as an opioid as a result of it hits opioid receptors within the mind, which explains why individuals have reported extreme withdrawal once they attempt to cease utilizing it. 

“Persons are utilizing it both to handle or withdrawal from tougher, harsher stuff, or they’re form of beginning their journey and growing an unhealthy relationship with it primarily based on its results—and its results are opioid-like results,” mentioned Dr. Patrick Marshalek, an affiliate professor at West Virginia College’s Faculty of Medication. 

There’s little or no recognized about tianeptine, together with how many individuals are utilizing it, although studies from each the FDA and the DEA have famous upticks in poison management calls concerning the drug up till at the very least 2020. It’s been banned in Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, and Indiana; officers in Mississippi issued a well being alert about it earlier this yr. 

Consultants informed VICE Information the problems surrounding its use are half of a bigger downside the place unregulated substances mimic the consequences of illicit medication, regardless of being marketed in a benign method. 

In the event you’ve had opposed reactions or gotten hooked on tianeptine or different medication marketed as dietary supplements, we would like to listen to from you. E mail

Hunter Barnett, 26, who has a painful esophagus situation and has been hooked on opioids prior to now, was skeptical that the tianeptine could possibly be efficient. However when he moved to Penscacola, Florida, from Alabama in January, he observed that each time he went to the fuel station, individuals have been shopping for ZaZa Reds. 

“I am sitting there considering it is a fuel station, this shit ain’t gonna be any good,” he informed VICE Information. 

Nonetheless, he purchased some and finally converted to a model referred to as TD Pink, which he described as feeling like a mixture of Percocets and cocaine. 

“They have been wonderful. Like wow it took away all of the ache,” Barnett mentioned. However inside 5 days, he mentioned he started upping his dose. Whereas he began taking three at a time, each few hours, he can now take a whole bottle of 15 tablets in a single go. 

“It was positively one of many largest errors in my life. I want I’d have by no means touched them,” he mentioned. 

“It was positively one of many largest errors in my life. I want I’d have by no means touched them.”

Barnett mentioned tianeptine’s results put on off rapidly.  He would typically take them earlier than mattress and must get up in the midst of the night time to take extra to keep away from going into withdrawal. He mentioned he started going by means of three to 6 bottles a day, every costing $30. 

He mentioned he began working his job delivering groceries through Instacart each day however was nonetheless broke on account of how a lot he was spending on the tablets.

“I’ve spent about $50,000 since January on these,” he mentioned. 

When Barnett spoke to VICE Information, he mentioned he’d simply come off a 10-day detox that was tougher than when he got here off opioids like oxycodone, fentanyl, and buprenorphine. He mentioned he skilled nausea, sweats, vomiting, fever, physique ache, and relentless chills. 

“The withdrawal, I can actually say, is absolutely the worst expertise of my life,” he mentioned. 

Kirsten Smith, a researcher with the Nationwide Institute on Drug Abuse, mentioned a pair components influence the extreme withdrawal: the extremely excessive doses that some individuals are taking and the truth that many of those merchandise embody proprietary blends, so no one actually is aware of what’s inside them. 

“Tianeptine is a part of a broader story of individuals taking a bunch of crap and never figuring out what they’re taking,” Smith mentioned, including that she hasn’t heard of any researchers shopping for tianeptine merchandise and testing what’s in them, possible as a result of it’s not on anybody’s radar. 

Smith was lead creator of a paper on Reddit posts about tianeptine from 2012-2020 that was revealed within the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse final yr. She mentioned 81 % of posts likened tianeptine to an opioid, 83 % talked about habit, and over 70 % talked about withdrawal. A subreddit referred to as r/QuittingTianeptine has greater than 3,800 members, with individuals sharing horror tales of their withdrawal and giving one another recommendation on the right way to get off the drug. 

One on-line advert for ZaZa Pink boasted that it’s “nice for ache aid” and “offers a euphoric and energizing temper raise,” however famous, “ZaZa RED works on the identical receptors as conventional opiates so Be Conscious!” 

One other positioned tianeptine as an alternative choice to alcohol and weed, stating, “In only one capsule, your stress, your nervousness all soften away nearly immediately.” 

VICE Information reached out to a number of producers and retailers that promote tianeptine to ask for touch upon the well being issues surrounding the drug however didn’t obtain a response.  


A pack of tianeptine, labeled in Spanish. (Picture By BSIP / UIG By way of Getty Photos)

In February, the FDA issued a warning stating that tianeptine has been related to critical hurt, overdoses, and demise. The warning mentioned tianeptine retailers are “making harmful and unproven claims that tianeptine can enhance mind operate and deal with nervousness, despair, ache, opioid use dysfunction, and different circumstances.” It mentioned individuals with opioid addictions are significantly in danger when utilizing tianeptine and that a number of the opposed results are agitation, drowsiness, confusion, sweating, fast heartbeat, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, slowed or stopped respiration, coma, and demise. 

Though he hasn’t heard of widespread tianeptine use, Marshalek mentioned he sees the drug falling into the same panorama as artificial cannabinoids and bathtub salts. And like these substances, he sees the goal customers as being individuals who can’t entry extra conventional medication or individuals who often get drug examined. 

“You assume you are doing protected stuff as a result of it is not road medication, but it surely’s form of possibly a bit of bit nearer to it than you’d assume,” he mentioned. It’s a state of affairs that performs out time and time once more with prohibition, he added, the place individuals flip to authorized highs or stronger medication when one thing turns into unlawful.  

Marshalek mentioned corporations can reap the benefits of the truth that there’s little or no oversight of those substances. 

“Are you able to belief these people which might be actually trying to earn cash and solely do this? Have they got the identical security practices that pharmaceutical corporations would or the identical diploma of oversight from the FDA?”

Barnett mentioned he feels very misled by the advertising round tianeptine and would help a ban, or on the very least, extra warnings. 

“Be sincere on the rattling bottle and be like that is tremendous fucking addictive, you realize what I imply? Do not name them dietary dietary supplements as a result of they’re not,” he mentioned. 

He mentioned he plans to maneuver again to Alabama, the place tianeptine is banned. Regardless of the problem of his withdrawal, he mentioned he celebrated his 10-day detox by taking 12 tablets. However he doesn’t consider it would override the detox. 

“I simply needed to have a good time a bit of bit,” he mentioned. Requested the way it felt to take them once more, he mentioned, “Wonderful. However it would not final very lengthy.” 

Comply with Manisha Krishnan on Twitter. 

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