When we decided to test my son Charles for drug use, he decided to go under the radar so substances he used wouldn’t show up on the standard home drug tests.
In 2012 and 2013, he used substances like Robitussin cough medicine, Redi-Whip whipped topping, and Kratom, the latter being one of the first under-the-radar substances sold in convenience stores and gas stations. Our local store was in our suburb neighborhood called “Lucky’s” and it was a teenage hangout. The Kratom was next to the chewing gum. To think I worried about sugary energy drinks.
However, the number of over-the-counter and manufactured substances marketed to young people that produce a high, are addictive, and do not show up on a drug test is escalating.
At those smoke shops you see popping up in states where marijuana is now legal, and wherever there are gas stations and convenience stores, you’ll find deadly yet legal and unregulated substances.
Available does not mean safe
The four most dangerous qualities of any of a trending substance:
The first two are the most important aspects of igniting a trend.
- Packaged attractively
These manufacturers, or rather predators, are targeting and marketing to preteens, teens, and young adults. These substances are a breadcrumb trail to substance misuse and addiction. While the nicotine product below is regulated, it’s an example of one that is flavored and marketed to appeal to young people.
Look around the counter of your local gas station next time you go. See what is behind the counter, and in the cases next to the cash register.
That’s advertising for teens and young adults to draw them inside. Meanwhile, most adults are blissfully unaware of the advertising, what those signs mean, or the dangers these substances pose.
While nicotine is regulated, other substances that are not yet regulated or controlled are often marketed as “mood enhancers,” “dietary supplements” or “focus aids.”
The drug that will be the biggest problem is the one that is most available in your area. And when it comes to getting high, cheap makes an available substance a magnet for young people.
If a package for a substance says any of these things, that’s a red flag
- mood enhancer
- dietary supplement
- focus aid
Just because it’s sold on open shelves doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Salespeople at these shops will insist it can help mood, make you thinner or smarter without hooking you. That’s what the Purdue Pharma told doctors in 1990s and we know what happened there.
One emerging threat is tianeptine, also called gas station heroin or the ZaZa Drug
Touted and promoted as a dietary supplement or mood booster, tianeptine is among a growing, unregulated class of potentially addictive products available in gas stations, convenience stores, smoke shops, and across the internet especially on social media.
One of the brand names is Neptune’s Fix and this substance can mimic an opioid like heroin. They can be found as a liquid elixir in bottles, as a salt, powder, or pill that may look similar to hydrocodone or oxycodone. It is also often marketed as a supplement, making it hard for consumers to understand its dangers when it is sold in stores.
This product comes in lemon, tropical, cherry, or chocolate-vanilla flavors, and costs about $16. Customers often purchase 12-bottle boxes. The flavors alone indicate marketing to youth and not adults.
Typical symptoms of heroin and gas-station heroin are
- Nodding off in front of you. Called “the nods”
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light
- Sleeping at unusual times
- Headaches and confusion
- Vomiting and other stomach distress. When they wake up and they’re sick, and then a few hours later they’re suddenly “not sick” anymore.
- Loss of appetite
- High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constipation is a big issue for those on opioids and this substance causes the same issue. Those who are addicted will ask for stool softeners, laxatives, and even enemas.
- Withdrawal symptoms: sweating, agitation, pain
Availability is no indication of effectiveness or safety
This is especially true of tianeptine, an unapproved drug associated with serious health risks, death, and addiction. That means withdrawal and rehab.
While we don’t want these substances to be readily available, are we getting to the core of the issue in the first place? Removing them seems to only make room for the next one.
You can report an adverse event involving tianeptine
- Complete and submit the report online
- Download the form or
- Call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form sent to you in the mail, then complete and return to the address on the form, or submit it by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.
Help is available to treat opioid or other substance use disorders
Find state-licensed providers who specialize in treating substance use disorders and addiction at:
- Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- TTY 800-487-4889
- Text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you