⚫ Tianeptine should not be sold or consumed, according to the U.S. FDA

⚫ There's limited regulatory oversight because it's being sold as a dietary supplement

⚫ NJ started noticing an issue in June

New Jersey officials knew a problem was brewing in the summer, and now they're trying to avoid an epidemic.

Leaders and health professionals are again sounding the alarm on the threat of tianeptine — aka "gas station heroin" — a non-FDA approved drug that officials say is on shelves for anyone to buy and get addicted to, making bogus claims that it can treat depression and pain, or be used an alternative to opioids.

"People just believe all this stuff, all this garbage," said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. 6th District, who held a press conference in Edison to call for action to prevent further harm to the public.

Pallone wrote a letter to a handful of groups, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, to request a briefing on how they are protecting consumers from hazardous products.

The drug, being marketed as a dietary supplement in the U.S., is typically seen on shelves in a tiny bottle. Brand names include Neptune's Fix, Pegasus, Za Za, and more.

Earlier this year, the FDA urged shops to stop selling tianeptine products, and Neptune Resources issued a voluntary recall of some products, according to officials.

"I am concerned that this recall, because it's voluntary, is not necessarily happening in a way that it should," Pallone said. "We want people to stop taking it, we want stores to stop selling it, we want people to be aware of how dangerous it is."

Tianeptine problems in New Jersey

Prior to June 2023, the New Jersey Poison Control Center handled calls about tianeptine once or twice a year. Then, the helpline received six calls over the span of a couple weeks.

"And we kept getting more and more and more of these exposures," said Diane Calello, executive and medical director.

Nationwide, 391 tianeptine cases were reported last year, including 27 in the Garden State.

"Patients exhibit a range of unexpected symptoms, including agitation, delirium, low blood pressure, seizures, and even cardiac arrest," Calello said. "Some patients have died."

Concerned by the rising number of cases, the center sent bottles of tianeptine to a lab for analysis and found that samples also contained ingredients that weren't on the label, such as synthetic cannabis.

"How much is out there? The answer is infinite when you consider online purchasing," Calello said.

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