Blue Ridge Poison Center warns of over the counter, opioid-like drug

The Blue Ridge Poison Center is warning of tianeptine, a drug sold over the counter that can act like an opioid in high doses
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 4:32 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Blue Ridge Poison Center is warning of tianeptine, a drug sold over the counter that can act like an opioid in high doses.

Tianeptine, sometimes called “gas station dope,” is easily obtainable online and in stores. The poison center is warning that this easily accessible pill can cause addiction and even death.

“You can become addicted to it. You can have an overdose from it, and you’re gonna look like you’re an overdose from heroin. You can die from this,” Blue Ridge Poison Director Doctor Christopher Holstege said.

Tianeptine is sold as a dietary supplement under names like “ZaZa” and is perfectly legal to buy and sell in Virginia.

“Some of the nicknames that are being utilized shows that it’s actually targeting to some of the poorer communities. You know, ‘Hillbilly heroin,’ ‘gas station heroin,’ that I can go to a gas station to buy these products, and subsequently have effects like I would see with heroin,” Dr. Holstege said.

Right now it’s legal in Virginia, but not in every state.

“Other states banned it because they were seeing deaths from it and seeing adverse complications from it,” Dr. Holstege said. “They advocated that this should be taken off the market for the same reasons that we’re starting to see problems with it too.”

Even for those who only take it a few times, or just once, Dr. Holstege says there are risks.

“You don’t know what the dose truly is, this isn’t a pharmaceutical company that’s actually selling this and they have quality control,” Dr. Holstege said. “There’s a potential for drug interactions.”

The pills are not FDA approved, but Dr. Holstege says tianeptine is used as a prescription antidepressant in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

“One of the things that is also I think challenging is the false claims that are being made. People in white coats who are claiming that these things can help certain conditions, when in fact, there’s no evidence for that whatsoever,” Dr. Holstege said.

In a statement to NBC29, the FDA said: “Tianeptine is not approved by the FDA for any medical use, and it has not been reviewed by the FDA for safety, effectiveness or quality.”

Even if Virginia decides to ban the opioid-like drug, Dr. Holstege says others will likely take its place in the market.

“We’re seeing this rapid cycling that’s really concerning, from my perspective, for the public,” Dr. Holstege said. “The question is, as a society, how are we to get better control of that?”

People struggling with addiction or who have questions can reach out to Region Ten or to addiction services at the University of Virginia.

Do you have a story idea? Send us your news tip here.