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Florida lawmakers move to prohibit ‘gas station heroin’

An emergency ban of tianeptine took effect last year. Now, legislators want to write it into state law.
 
U.S. regulators have warned people not to consume tianeptine products, including Neptune’s Fix. The substance is prescribed as an antidepressant in some European, Asian and Latin American countries.
U.S. regulators have warned people not to consume tianeptine products, including Neptune’s Fix. The substance is prescribed as an antidepressant in some European, Asian and Latin American countries. [ U.S. Food and Drug Administration ]
Published Feb. 29|Updated March 1

Florida lawmakers are moving to ban tianeptine, an antidepressant that’s commonly known as “gas station heroin.”

The drug has alarmed federal regulators, who warn that some products have been linked to seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody took emergency action in September to temporarily outlaw the substance, saying it was dangerous. Now, legislators want to ban it fully in state law, making tianeptine a Schedule 1 drug like ecstasy or LSD. The Senate bill, SB 1512, passed Thursday morning. Discussion of the House bill, HB 1595, was postponed Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved tianeptine for medical use. It’s added to dietary supplements and sold online and at gas stations and smoke shops. Some companies make unproven claims that it can treat anxiety, pain and opioid addiction, the federal agency said.

Florida poison control centers have seen a spike in calls about tianeptine. They jumped from three in 2015 to 40 last year, according to data obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

“This stuff is really, really dangerous,” said William Rushton, medical director of the Alabama Poison Information Center, which saw a deluge of calls in 2019. “People should always be very skeptical of any supplement they take, but particularly anything that comes from a gas station.”

At least one person in Florida has fatally overdosed on the drug, according to medical examiner data from 2022. A 28-year-old man in Bay County died from a lethal mixture of tianeptine, the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam and kratom, a psychoactive herb involved in hundreds of Florida deaths.

Medical examiners who handle cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties didn’t record any fatal tianeptine-related overdoses last year. A Times reporter recently visited several Tampa Bay gas stations and smoke shops looking for the drug, but couldn’t find it.

Since June, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has ordered 10 businesses across the state, including five locally, to stop selling tianeptine, agency data shows.

According to research which analyzed Reddit posts, some people use the drug to ease withdrawals from opioids or kratom, treat psychiatric symptoms and improve mood. Many consumers are not seeking a “high,” the scientists said.

Tianeptine is prescribed as an antidepressant in some European, Asian and Latin American countries.

It’s easy to become addicted to the drug, Rushton said, and withdrawals from it can be worse than those from opioids. Patients can experience an increased heart rate, agitation and “extreme delirium,” he said.

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“We’ve put a lot of people in intensive care units,” Rushton said.