Users getting hooked on ‘gas station heroin’ pills that have ‘painful opioid-like’ withdrawals: report


A potentially dangerous supplement dubbed “gas station heroin” is being sold at convenience stores and online and getting users hooked.

The pills contain tianeptine and are sold under names including “Za Za Red” and “Tianna.” They are hawked as a dietary supplement that helps to improve brain function and to treat anxiety and depression, according to a report by NewsNation.

But they can lead to an opioid-like high, which is leaving some users addicted, experts told the outlet — and the FDA says the products are linked to overdoses and deaths.

bottles of Za Za Red
Experts say supplements including Za Za Red are potentially dangerous.
Madisonville PD-TN

“So far there’s absolutely no understanding of the dosage. And certainly, no, it’s not approved for any medical use. And it’s absolutely not approved as a dietary supplement. In fact, it’s actually on the FDA’s list of concerning substances,” Dr. Kirsten Smith, a researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told NewsNation.

Many users, Smith added, suffer “extremely painful opioid-like” withdrawals that are “actually as bad as if not worse than some of the opioids they’ve tried.”

One man told NewsNation he spent $2,000 a month on the pills, sacrificing food for his family to buy more before finally quitting cold turkey. Another user said they had a “six- to nine-bottle-a-day habit.”

person dispensing pills
Some users of tianeptine supplements are getting hooked.
Getty Images/EyeEm

Poison control centers have seen a surge in tianeptine-related calls, with roughly 900 since 2015 — the previous decade had just 27, according to Consumer Reports.

Mississippi became the latest state to enact a ban on tianeptine which will take effect on July 1. Bans are also in place in Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio.

In a statement to NewsNation, the FDA said it was “committed to doing everything within its resources and authorities to identify and remove unsafe and illegal dietary supplements from the market.”

But the agency added that it “currently has no systematic way of knowing what dietary supplements are on the market, when new products are introduced or what they contain — even if they contain ingredients we have previously acted against.”


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