CHARLOTTE — A supplement marketed for anxiety and depression, and growing in popularity, has a new nickname – “Gas Station Dope.” Its real name is tianeptine, and according to Consumer Reports, at least four people have died from using the substance.
In 2018, officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called tianeptine an “unsafe” food additive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went further, calling the chemical a “possible emerging public health risk.”
Two states, Michigan and Alabama, have banned it. “This is a dangerous, dangerous drug and people seem to be unaware of it, and it’s happening in our convenience stores, gas stations, flying under the radar,” Alabama Rep. Mike Holmes told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke.
But since the government started cracking down on opioids the last few years, many are turning to this substance.
Stoogenke found that it’s inexpensive and easy to get. He purchased some tianeptine online for about $25, including shipping. It arrived in the mail three days later.
Police said drug tests can’t detect tianeptine, but the consequences of taking it can be devastating.
“It’s definitely been a growing concern,” said Patrick Collins, a substance abuse counselor with Presbyterian Psychological Services. Collins told Stoogenke he’s already come across people using it in the Charlotte area.
“You can get it online. With the click of a button, you can get it delivered to your house,” he said. “Just because you can buy it off the shelves, just because you can purchase it online, depending where you are, doesn’t make it safe.”
Alyssa Wood said she was addicted to heroin for about 10 years. She said she survived “countless” overdoses and was arrested multiple times. “I was stealing. I was manipulating. I was lying,” she said.
She told Stoogenke that in 2012, her sister overdosed on heroin and died. She said that caused her to stop using heroin, but a year later she found herself struggling so much with the loss of her sister that she leaned on the drug again.
“I just wanted to get off the heroin. And I was desperate, and I would try anything,” she said.
Wood tried tianeptine. “And that just kind of opened a whole new can of worms that I didn’t ever think would happen,” she said.
Her friends told her using it was similar to an opiate high and that she wouldn’t have withdrawals.
She said you could snort it, drink it or use a needle to inject it.
“I would have holes in my arms because this tianeptine is like an acid, and it would eat away at my tissue because it would just sit there with nowhere to go.”
Woods eventually ended up in the hospital. “I was septic. I had a day or two and I probably would have passed away from infection,” she said. “The doctor said, ‘I don’t know if I can even save your limbs, but I will try.’ And that was the end for me.”
Woods said she’s been clean for five years. She’s testified before the legislature in her home state of Michigan and works with high-risk children. She also works with police to help spread awareness of the dangers of tianeptine. “This is heroin times 1,000, and it’s very devastating. And it’s life-destroying. I don’t really know how to put it into words, how horrible this substance is,” she said.
Another former addict told Channel 9, that using tianeptine “is probably worse than any heroin withdrawal, any heroin addiction,” they’d been through.
Stoogenke emailed five websites that sell tianeptine, including the one he bought a sample from, to get their side of the story weeks ago. No one has responded in time for this report.