Feds Get Rare ‘Gas Station Heroin’ Conviction

Oct 31, 2023   
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A California man has been convicted of smuggling and misbranding tianeptine after selling the unapproved drug as a “mood enhancer.

By Manisha Krishnan
September 13, 2023

A California man has been convicted of smuggling tianeptine into the U.S. from China, in one of the few federal prosecutions involving the unapproved drug colloquially called “gas station heroin.”

Ryan Stabile, 36, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to one count of smuggling tianeptine and two counts of introduction of misbranded drugs with intent to defraud and mislead last week. He will be sentenced in January, with the smuggling crime carrying up to five years in prison and the introduction of misbranded drugs charge up to three years.

The case comes as more states have banned tianeptine, which mimics opioids and is causing extreme withdrawal in some users, including nausea, chills, restless legs, and extreme anxiety. It’s also been linked to fatal overdoses but is easily available at gas stations and convenience stores all over the country. Tianeptine is a regulated antidepressant in over 60 countries around the world but it is not an approved drug in the U.S., though it’s not federally illegal. However, it is routinelyand illegallymarketed as a dietary supplement or nootropic (substance that can enhance cognitive function), with claims that it can help with
anxiety, depression, pain, and brain function.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued some vendors warning letters about selling tianeptine, but federal prosecutions are extremely rare.

Stabile was charged in October 2019 after he bought tianeptine from China and resold it on his site Supplements for Work, marketing it as a “mood enhancer” that “improved cognitive functioning,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts.

His site said the tianeptine was “for research purposes only, even though he sold tianeptine to individuals for personal use,” authorities said.

A man who identified himself as a former Supplements for Work customer, John, told VICE News the site was popular for purchasing tianeptine at the time. But John, 55, who didn’t want his last name used, alleged he and others felt there was a decline in quality and believed that the product was being diluted.

Because tianeptine isn’t regulated in the U.S., there’s no way of knowing what’s actually in the products being sold, many of which use proprietary blends.

John said around the same time as Stabile’s arrest, Redditwhere many tianeptine users congregatecracked down on tianeptine sellers soliciting customers on the site.

Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Minnesota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio have banned tianeptine, but it is not a federally scheduled drug. Nonetheless, the FDA can launch enforcement against sellers of tianeptine who make claims that it can help with diseases or impact the structure or function of the body, according to Andrew Ittleman, a Miamibased lawyer who specializes in food and drug law.

Ittleman likened the situation to someone selling water that they claimed could cure cancer.

“If I broadcast that loudly enough, don’t be surprised when the FDA says, ‘OK, this is a drug now because you’re making these drug claims about it. And we want it to go through our approval process before you can market it to patients in the United States.’”


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