Proposed law would ban sale of tianeptine or 'gas station heroin'

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Thursday, May 2, 2024
Proposed law would ban sale of 'gas station heroin'
A law proposed by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin would ban the sale of tianeptine or "gas station heroin," prompted by an ABC7 I-Team investigation.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An investigation by the ABC7 I-Team is prompting new federal legislation, which has just been introduced in Washington, that would ban so-called "gas station heroin," or tianeptine, from store shelves.

"Gas station heroin" is the street name for tianeptine, a wholly unregulated product that mimics the effects of opioids. As the I-Team discovered earlier this year, it is sold in smoke shops, convenience stores and gas stations in Chicago and across the country.

A federal ban now proposed in the U.S. Senate would spell the end of tianeptine's marketing to consumers, and it has been supported by family members who have lost loved ones to tianeptine overdose.

I'm doing what I can to make sure the FDA can ban it once and for all
Dick Durbin, Illinois Senator

"I miss him dearly," Karen Haggarty told the I-Team, speaking of her son, Chris Haggarty, who bought tianeptine at a gas station near his home in Ohio.

Haggarty said the relatively inexpensive product cost her family immensely.

"$15 a bottle. How many people bought it besides my son?" Haggarty said. "It was for sale at the gas station, right next to the lottery tickets and the cigarettes."

READ MORE | Ohio mother says tianeptine, or 'gas station heroin,' killed her son, lobbies for ban

New legislation proposed from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, which would label gas station heroin and other tianeptine products as drugs, and put them under government control and regulation.

Durbin spoke to the I-Team from Washington on Wednesday about why he says the new law would save lives from untested risks.

"The fact of the matter is that tianeptine has never been tested in any American laboratory. They make claims on the bottle as to what it's going to achieve, and they're never proven," Durbin said. "It's a warning: one pill can kill. Stay away from it. I'm doing what I can to make sure the FDA can ban it once and for all."

Nationwide, cases of tianeptine poisoning are steadily climbing.

America's Poison Centers has been documenting an increasing numbers of calls involving tianeptine over the past five years, including 391 cases last year.

The Illinois Poison Center previously told the I-Team it has been tracking a notable increase in calls involving tianeptine, and certified poison specialists have noted some of the calls have come from emergency room physicians.

In March, Durbin penned several pointed letters to pharmaceutical industry executives, urging their organizations "to take action against the inclusion of dangerous or illegal ingredients in products marketed as dietary supplements in the United States."

The letters cited the I-Team's reporting on the wide-availability of tianeptine, and the "pain and suffering" and sometimes death of people who use the over-the-counter capsules and elixirs.

As the I-Team previously reported, there are some people who are opposed to any regulation, who use tianeptine for pain control and relaxation, and who say when used carefully, it's safe.

Durbin said he hopes this new legislation will receive bi-partisan support and passage, and prevent further loss of life.

"Dietary supplements are never tested like prescription drugs. It's always a risk," Durbin said. "But an overdose of Vitamin C is not going to kill you. An overdose of tianeptine will."