Florida has become the latest state to ban tianeptine, an unapproved drug that’s been dubbed “gas station heroin” because it causes opioid-like withdrawal in some users and is available at gas stations and convenience stores.
Attorney General Ashley Moody announced an emergency ban on tianeptine last Thursday, making it a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s a felony to possess, sell, and use in the state.
“We filed an emergency rule to outlaw tianeptine, an extremely dangerous chemical being sold at gas stations, convenience stores and smoke shops in our state. Tianeptine is linked to five deaths nationwide. And so far this year, Florida’s Poison Control Center has fielded 15 calls about exposure to this drug,” Moody said in a video statement released Sept. 21.
Commonly sold under brand names like Zaza, Tianaa, and Pegasus, or in powder form online, tianeptine acts on a person’s opioid receptors and is not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration. But it’s not a federally scheduled drug.
Tianeptine is regulated and used as a tricyclic antidepressant in over 60 countries, but the versions sold in the U.S. are not regulated, and users have reported becoming quickly addicted to it and going into severe withdrawal after a few hours. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, chills, sleeplessness, restless legs, and extreme anxiety.
Alabama, Tennessee, Minnesota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi have already banned tianeptine.
While Florida’s ban is temporary, Moody said she’ll work to make it permanent in Florida’s next legislative session.
In March, VICE News traveled to Jacksonville to spend time with Kristin and Jason, a couple who used to use painkillers and had become severely addicted to tianeptine in the last few years. Jason made daily two-hour round trips on foot to local smoke shops to purchase the drug. At the time, Kristin, a mother of five, said she feared that if the drug were to be banned she would start using opioids again.
“I want them to ban them and get them gone but I don’t because it could affect me deeply,” Kristin previously told VICE News. “I don’t know if I could even live through withdrawal from it.”
“The highly addictive nature, severe withdrawal symptoms, and unregulated volume, potency, and purity of this ‘gas station heroin’ can lead users to become dependent or back to opioids and other illicit drugs,” reads Florida’s emergency ban.
In September, VICE News spoke to a man who was detoxing off tianeptine at home based on a protocol he found on Reddit, where many tianeptine users support each other. The man ended up in hospital but managed to stop using the drug.
He said he thinks the state bans will either force people into withdrawal or they will start purchasing tianeptine online or cross state lines to obtain it.