Legislators prepare to regulate euphoric ‘gas station’ drug

A growing number of young adults are abusing a ‘gas station’ drug for its euphoric properties similar to opioids like heroin, and state lawmakers are preparing to take action. 

The House Select Committee on Substance Abuse met on Tuesday and heard from pharmaceutical experts on the substance known as tianeptine, an antidepressant with addictive properties. Tianeptine is used as a prescription medication in 66 countries to treat anxiety and depressive disorders, but it’s never been approved for use in the United States. 

Mimicking the effects of well-known recreational drugs, tianeptine produces euphoria when taken in high doses. Despite not being FDA-approved, it can be found unregulated in over-the-counter products commonly advertised as cognitive function enhancers. The drug has been sold under names like Zaza, Pegasus, Neptun, and Tiana. The manufacturer’s packaging of the product Purple Magic advertises the substance as a way to increase focus, enhance mood, and relieve stress.

“However, when you view the description available for the product online, in addition to the package claim of no side effects, you also find no prescription needed, product designed by a physician – all of which gives a false sense of safety regarding the product,” warned Penny Shelton, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. “Note that the information clearly states capsules yield a sense of euphoria.”

In high doses, tinaeptine is like any other substance with the potential for misuse and dependence. While it produces euphoria through a dopamine release, it also changes neuronal pathways in the brain, which is particularly problematic for teens and young adults whose brains are still underdeveloped.

“Tianeptine is one of the latest trending gas station drugs, so called, because of where they’re typically sold, such as convenience stores, bodegas, and vape shops. But these products are also widely available for purchase over the Internet,” said Clinical Pharmacist at Vaya Health Stephanie Craycroft-Andrews.

Reported side effects include severe sedation, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat, slowed or stopped breathing, and loss of consciousness. Additionally, case reports associate tianeptine with withdrawal symptoms similar to opioid withdrawal, suicidality, and unintended fatal overdoses. A representative with the Department of Health and Human Services said the good news is that toxicology labs find tianeptine in just one to two death screenings per year.

Still, data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows tianeptine exposure reports have been on the rise since 2013. The latest data shows there were 391 cases of tianeptine poisoning reported in 2023. 

“My personal opinion is that people are buying these substances because they want to feel good, and then when they get dependent on them, they are buying and using more and using more… then we end up with a substance use disorder,” Shelton said. 

Looking into the effects of tianeptine on teenagers and young adults, the committee heard testimony from a young man who suffered through a ‘vicious cycle’  with the ‘evil’ substance first-hand. 

“It was like an itch you just couldn’t scratch, and it just got harder and harder and harder. And finally, I was back in the vape shop buying it again,” the man explained in an audio recording played. “At some point, I was taking 150 pills a day, and it got to the point where I couldn’t manage it again… the same cycle happened again, and had to go to the hospital because I had hallucinations.”

His longest point of sobriety was three or four months at a time. Alleging that the manufacturers ‘know exactly what they are doing,’ he urged state legislators to ban the substance from store shelves statewide.

The sale of tianeptine-containing products has been banned by nine states: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio

Rep. Reece Pyrtle, R-Rockingham, was one of several legislators who firmly said he would like to ban tianeptine from the market. He would like to see it marked as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act. This would define it as a substance with a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use in the United States. This category includes substances such as LSD, opiates, heroin, and ecstasy. He suggested the North Carolina Department of Justice and the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy take up the issue on their agenda, as both agencies have the power to add, delete, or reschedule a controlled substance.

Committee members also referred to a recently passed bill that seeks to regulate the sale and distribution of hemp-derived consumable products. HB 563 unanimously passed the House last September and still awaits consideration in the Senate.

“We outlawed kratom in that bill, and the Senate could add this drug to that bill very easily. I don’t think we need to make it a controlled group; we just need to outlaw it,” said Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-Stanly.

In January, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase or use tianeptine products due to serious risks. The federal agency is currently working with local and state health departments to investigate adverse event reports.

The post Legislators prepare to regulate euphoric ‘gas station’ drug first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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