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Woman says she had painful withdrawal symptoms after getting addicted to drug sold at gas stations

May 18, 2021 at 6:57 pm EDT

Channel 2 investigates a dangerous drug that is highly addictive and sold at gas stations and online.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray uncovered tianeptine is being shipped from metro Atlanta. The drug which mimics opioids is commonly sold as Tianaa or Za Za.

A mother from Alabama who got hooked on tianeptine said kicking the habit made her violently sick.

“It was like a demon was coming out of me as I started withdrawing,” said Michele who asked us not to use her last name.

She started buying Tianaa and Za Za from gas stations to boost her energy levels in October 2020.

Michele got hooked almost immediately.

“When I stopped taking it on the third day, immediately apparently it had attached to my receptors and I was addicted that fast,” she said.

Michele wound up taking eight bottles of Za Za a day, spending $600 a week. When she would stop using it, she experienced painful withdrawal symptoms.

“Oh, it was the devil, breathlessness. I couldn’t sleep at all. Restless legs kicked in. I couldn’t stop moving. I was depressed, sweating,” she said.

Michele who had never used drugs before went to rehab for 28 days to get clean.

Alyssa Wood of Michigan said she started shooting up tianeptine when she decided to quit heroin.

“This is heroin times 1,000, and it’s very devastating and it’s life destroying,” said Wood.

Both Michigan and Alabama banned tianeptine. But it’s a problem here in Georgia too.

The Georgia Poison Center said it has helped doctors treat 14 tianeptine patients since 2015, half of them in the past two years.

“We get called about them, unfortunately, and sometimes you know these things can end up tragically in either severe complications or even death,” said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, the Georgia Poison Center’s executive director.

Tianeptine is approved as an antidepressant in some European countries.

But it’s not approved in the United States, where people are self-dosing.

“But when people are taking one hundred, one thousand times more than what is recommended, you’re going to run into complications,” Lopez said.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to two companies selling dietary supplements containing tianeptine.

In August, the nonpartisan Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to “remove these dangerous products from the market.”

Channel 2 ordered Za Za off the internet. When it arrived, we were surprised to see that it was shipped from an address on Shirley Drive in South Fulton County.

Gray went to the address. He knocked and rang the doorbell, but no one answered.

Gray did reach the business MRSS Inc. by phone.

“We’re working on a story about your product you’re selling, Za Za, and have some questions for you about it,” Gray said.

The man who returned Gray’s call said his lawyer could answer Gray’s questions.

“Are you going to send me your lawyer’s information?” asked Gray.

“No, I don’t have to send you anything,” the man replied. “We’re not selling anything.”

“You’re not selling anything? It comes from this address,” Gray said.

The caller hung up on Gray.

Michele said taking the drug almost ruined her life and she doesn’t want others to suffer like she did.

“If you see something like that, run from it because it’s the worst thing ever. Don’t even pick it up because you’ll regret it,” she said.

Fortunately, Michele said she’s been clean since Alabama banned tianeptine in February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that poison control centers across the U.S. received more than 200 calls about tianeptine between 2000 and 2017.

It called the drug a possible emerging public health risk.

Channel 2 will stay on top of any FDA or state action to ban tianeptine.

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