Mississippi just became the latest state to take steps to ban tianeptine, a drug that’s been dubbed “gas station heroin” because it mimics opioids and causes severe withdrawal in some users. The drug, sold under names like “zaza” or “tianna,” has even been linked to fatal overdoses.
Last week, Mississippi passed a bill to make tianeptine a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning people caught with it could face a fine or up to 30 years in prison, depending on how much they possess. If signed into law, the bill will take effect July 1, giving gas stations and smoke shops, where these products are typically sold, until then to get rid of their inventory.
Mississippi’s proposed ban follows a similar emergency ban passed by Ohio in December; Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, and Indiana have also issued bans on tianeptine.
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While tianeptine, a tricyclic antidepressant, is used to treat depression in some European and Latin American countries, it’s not approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. Thus, it's completely unregulated and is typically marketed as a natural supplement that can boost a person’s mood and ability to focus.
However, complaints to the FDA about the drug’s “adverse effects” have increased in the last few years as have poison control center calls. Dozens of people have reached out to VICE News to say they’re addicted to the drug and are now taking several bottles of capsules a day to ward off severe withdrawal symptoms including shaking, sweats, restless legs, insomnia, and anxiety.
Lowndes County, Mississippi had been considering its own ban on tianeptine. Speaking at a recent council meeting, Sheriff Eddie Hawkins and Columbus Police Chief Joseph Daughtry said two people have fatally overdosed from taking tianeptine, according to The Dispatch.
“There is no age restriction on the sale, meaning a 15-year-old child could go in a store and buy this stuff, which is scary,” Hawkins said.
“There is no age restriction on the sale, meaning a 15-year-old child could go in a store and buy this stuff, which is scary.”
A 35-year-old man in Lowndes County was arrested in January for allegedly stealing Za-Za, a brand of tianeptine, from a convenience store on two separate occasions.
“Obviously it’s addictive or you wouldn’t have someone breaking into convenience stores to get it,” Hawkins told The Dispatch.
Dr. Patrick Marshalek, an associate professor at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine, told VICE News he would want to see a person’s toxicology results before determining whether or not they overdosed from tianeptine, in part to see if they consumed any other substances. However, he said tianeptine hits opioid receptors that govern breathing, “and that’s where it gets dangerous.” (Opioids are respiratory depressants.)
He said banning tianeptine or opioids can have unintended consequences, potentially resulting in users replacing it with other substances.
“If you ban this and the demand is still there and we zoom out and think about the disease of addiction, that fire is burning. So it's going to look for some other kind of fuel to burn, whether it's gas station heroin or fentanyl on the street or something else that's easy to get and maybe not controlled,” he said.
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