Experts warn about dangers of 'gas station heroin' | Action News Investigation

So far, nine states have already banned it but not Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware.

ByCheryl Mettendorf and Chad Pradelli WPVI logo
Friday, May 10, 2024
Experts warn about dangers of 'gas station heroin' | Investigation
Experts warn about dangers of 'gas station heroin' | Action News Investigation

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Poison control officials are warning about an over-the-counter supplement that can cause severe adverse effects. It's dubbed gas station heroin.

It's a troubling ingredient called "tianeptine," which is found in products that go by the following names: Zaza Red or Silver, Neptune's Fix and Tianaa Red.

Health experts said its use is putting people in the hospital and flooding poison control centers with calls.

"Some patients exhibit agitation. They may become comatose. Some patients have had seizures. And we've seen severe cardiac effects like low blood pressure and cardiac arrest," said Dr. Diane Calello.

Dr. Calello is the executive director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. She said since June, the center has had 41 cases when previously it received one or two a year.

She told the Action News Investigative Team that reports are coming in across the state, but there have been clusters in Ocean and Monmouth counties.

"I think the biggest issue that we currently have with these products is they're unregulated," she added.

Dr. Calello told us that Neptune's Fix has been especially troubling. In January, the manufacturer, Neptune Resources, voluntarily recalled the product and the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to purchase it or any tianeptine product.

New Jersey Poison Control tested some of the products.

"And some of them were contaminated with pretty dangerous drugs," she said.

Dr. Calello said people take it for its rumored effects on energy, pain, mood and appetite control.

However, the product's manufacturers make no claims.

The Investigative Team wanted to see how readily available tianeptine products were in our area.

We were easily able to buy ZaZa Silver at a nearby gas station for $30.

We also were able to easily order ZaZa Red online from a store in Delaware County. Our order arrived one day later.

Our attempts to reach the manufacturer of Zaza and Neptune's Fix went unanswered.

Pennsylvania State Representative Andrew Kuzma from the Pittsburgh area has introduced a bill to outlaw tianeptine.

"We are finding that people are dying from this. It's nothing to mess around with," he said. "It's serious stuff."

So far, nine states have already banned it but not Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware.

In February, the Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which covers Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware, reported 15 cases related to tianeptine. In a report, it said 10 of those victims were put on ventilators in the ICU.

Poison control also said it knew of one death for the 12 months ending in January.

"After introducing the bill, we have had an outcry and outpour of people across this commonwealth from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Erie telling us personal testimonials on how terrible this stuff is," added Kuzma.

Representative Kuzma also said his bill has bipartisan support and he hopes to have it passed and signed into law by year's end.