Tianeptine: a New Illicit Drug Poses Serious Addiction Risk
Tianeptine is a relatively new pharmaceutical drug that is being misused for its mind-altering properties, leading to overdoses and harsh consequences.
Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration released a warning about tianeptine, a drug that, though it has not been approved for medicinal use in the United States by the FDA, is still readily available across the nation.
Tianeptine has been approved to be prescribed for depression and anxiety in countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America, but because of the potentially addictive nature of the drug, it is not legal in the United States. Despite its illicit nature, tianeptine is becoming more prevalent in gas stations and convenience stores under various misleading brand names and packaging, indicating a growing interest in tianeptine as an experimental drug. Given the potent nature of the drug and its ability to be both mind-altering and addictive, it’s clear this pharmaceutical drug poses a serious risk to American consumers.
As tianeptine has grown in popularity in recent years, Americans should know what tianeptine is, why it’s harmful, and what to do if a family member or loved one begins misusing it.
What Is Tianeptine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a warning about tianeptine, defining the drug as follows: “Tianeptine is an antidepressant drug that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Clinical effects of tianeptine abuse and withdrawal can mimic opioid toxicity and withdrawal.”1
The FDA has also put out its own warning about tianeptine, indicating that some companies are selling the drug under false pretenses and misleading advertising, with messages and advertisements that suggest the drug can improve brain function and treat anxiety, depression, pain, opioid use disorder, and other unwanted conditions.2 These claims are dangerous and false because while tianeptine is marketed in other countries as an antidepressant, the drug acts on the brain’s opioid receptors much the same way as opioid drugs do, posing a severe risk to the user.
People with a history of opioid use or dependence may be at particularly high risk of abusing tianeptine. This new drug is not an opioid drug, but its chemical composition causes it to act on the human body much as opioids do. Some opioid addicts have turned to tianeptine as an opioid alternative or to self-treat anxiety or depression. No matter how tianeptine is used or why it’s used, the drug has a mind-altering component. It can produce a similar euphoric high as opioids, and it has an alarming potential for misuse and addiction. Further, reports have come forth indicating that tianeptine misuse can become habit-forming and that people who use tianeptine over time will likely develop a dependency on it (leading to potentially severe withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using it).1
The Harms and Risks of Tianeptine
The FDA has documented many cases of Americans experiencing the severe, harmful effects of experimenting with tianeptine. These effects include agitation, drowsiness, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, slowed or stopped breathing, cardiac complications, coma, and even death.2
Despite the dangers of experimenting with this drug, poison control center cases involving tianeptine exposure have increased across the country, from just 11 total cases in 2013 to an alarming 151 cases in 2020.
American consumers should know that just because a product is available does not make it safe. Again quoting the FDA, “People seeking to treat their ailments sometimes mistake a product as being safe because it’s easily available, whether online or even at gas stations. But availability is no indication of effectiveness or safety.” This is especially true of tianeptine, an unapproved drug associated with serious health risks and even death. If people see tianeptine in their local gas stations or convenience stores, they should report it to the authorities.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has also put out information on tianeptine, warning Americans of the harmful and misleading nature of the drug. According to a DEA report on the drug, “Tianeptine has been encountered in the United States by law enforcement in various forms including bulk powder, counterfeit pills mimicking hydrocodone and oxycodone pharmaceutical products, and individual stamp bags commonly used to distribute heroin… Published case reports have provided evidence of adverse respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and withdrawal effects associated with the use of tianeptine.”3 The DEA information provides a valuable warning to American consumers that just because tianeptine may be legal and medically prescribed in other countries does not make it a safe drug to purchase from the gas station and consume recreationally.
What to Do If You Suspect a Loved One Is Using Tianeptine
As the list of drugs available for misuse and addiction continues to grow, it’s important that families and friends remain informed. If a family member is struggling with addiction, remember, that the addiction is just a symptom of underlying problems. The drugs became a solution to those problems. Until those problems are addressed, there will always be another drug like tianeptine or a long list of others that can be sought for temporary relief.
If you suspect that a loved one may be using tianeptine or other drugs, please reach out for assistance to get them the help they need to address the underlying problems and learn to deal with life on life’s terms without having to resort to drugs as a false answer.
El Zahran T, Schier J, Glidden E, et al. “Characteristics of Tianeptine Exposures Reported to the National Poison Data System—United States, 2000–2017”. CDC, 2018 CDC Report ↩︎ ↩︎
FDA. “Tianeptine Products Linked to Serious Harm, Overdoses, Death”—FDA, 2020 FDA Article ↩︎ ↩︎
DEA, Diversion Control Division. “Tianeptine”—DEA, 2019 DEA Publication (PDF) ↩︎