Mississippi lawmakers are tackling the issue of ‘gas station heroin’

Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 7:19 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Doctors are warning that there’s a dangerous drug hiding in plain sight at your neighborhood gas stations. The legislature is talking about how to tackle the latest threat of tianeptine.

You may have seen bottles with names like Za Za, Tiana, and Red Dawn alongside other supplements at the gas station and didn’t think much of it. However, doctors are raising a red flag about what those really contain.

There’s no prescription required, not even a trip to the pharmacy. So pills like Za Za must be safe, right? Nope. Dr. Jennifer Bryan explains it’s far from safe and even nicknamed “gas station heroin.”

“It can kill people, to be quite honest, and it’s highly addictive,” described Bryan, chairman of the Mississippi delegation of the American Medical Association.

Bryan saw that with a patient last fall.

“I had a young woman come to me, and she was a mother, and she was dealing with depression,” she explained. “And a friend told her about Za Za. So she tried it. And I promise you that same day, she said she could not stop, and it was so sad.”

So, how is it being sold at your neighborhood convenience stores? It’s technically an anti-depressant but marketed as a dietary supplement.

“In sneaky situations like tianeptine, something that the FDA on the drug side has not approved for prescription in the United States due to safety reasons, can sneak in the back door as a supplement,” explained Bryan.

House Bill 4 has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. It would make it a schedule one drug, effectively banning it.

“We have no need to be able to access this dangerous substance in the gas station,” added Bryan. “We just don’t, and the research has been done. The FDA has not approved it for safety reasons. We know what it is. We don’t need tianeptine in the state of Mississippi in any capacity.”

As the bill moves through the legislative process, it also caught the attention of some local communities like Columbus. Mom Tracy Morrison blames the pills for her son’s death earlier this month.

“He wound up buying a bottle of the Zaza reds,” said Morrison. “He did this on a Friday, and within four hours, he was gone.”

The Columbus City Council is set to meet on February 21 to consider a local ordinance banning the sale of Za Za.

“We want to make sure that it is crystal clear that we do not want this product in our community,” said Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins.

We’ll keep following the bill through the legislative process and let you know what happens this session.

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