Health Officials Sound the Alarm on Gas Station Heroin

( – Public health experts are warning that “dietary supplements” on sale in many gas stations and convenience stores are actually drugs that can be as addictive as opiates. The products have earned the nickname “gas station heroin” and they’re behind a spike in drug harm incidents. These drugs aren’t approved by the FDA — but they’re still widely available.

Tianeptine is an “atypical” antidepressant drug that was invented in France in the 1960s, and in some countries is used to treat serious depression. Even though it’s widely available, it’s never been approved for medical use in the US. It’s sold as a “dietary supplement” under brands like Neptune’s Fix and ZaZa Red. The makers of these products claim they can help with pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as boosting mental alertness. Because they’re available over the counter in many states, people assume they’re safe — but that’s not necessarily true.

Public health officials are warning that between June and November last year, there were 20 reports of serious side effects from tianeptine products in New Jersey alone. That’s a dramatic rise over previous years when there would usually be one or two reports. Experts say the drug mimics an opioid and can be just as addictive — and addiction can push users into dangerous overdoses. Some users have needed treatment with anti-opioid medication to break their addiction to tianeptine.

Although tianeptine isn’t a controlled substance in the US, it’s illegal to use it in food or supplements. That puts many of the products available in convenience stores or online in a gray area. Now the FDA is advising Americans to just stop using them. The agency says these drugs are linked to “severe adverse event reports” including seizures and even death — and the number of incidents has risen every year since 2019, with almost 400 nationally in 2023. With an opioid epidemic still raging, we don’t need this on top of it.

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