Amid a worrying increase in the number of high school-aged youth purchasing the substance tianeptine, the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously classified the drug as a Schedule II controlled substance on Wednesday afternoon.

Tianeptine is referred to as a gas station drug because it’s easy to access with no age requirement. It’s marketed as a way to increase focus, enhance mood, and relieve stress. Despite not being FDA-approved, it can be found unregulated in over-the-counter products commonly advertised as cognitive function enhancers. 

“Through further research, we determined that this was a substance that needed to be scheduled,” said Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance. “And you’ve probably heard of this substance. It’s been all over the news in the last year. It’s called gas station heroin. It’s a bad substance. It needs to come off the shelves. It’s devastating families all across North Carolina, and this bill simply adds this to the controlled substance list.”

The drug reportedly mimics the effects of heroin and triggers the same type of addiction. Reported side effects include severe sedation, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat, slowed or stopped breathing, and loss of consciousness. 

“At least eight states, so far, have moved to ban tianeptine, and North Carolina should pass this bill to protect our young people,” added Erin Pare, R-Wake. “I ask for a unanimous vote in favor of this bill today.”

As a Schedule II substance, tianeptine is considered to have a high potential for abuse that may lead to severe psychic or physical dependence. The pathway for Wednesday’s passage of House Bill 903 goes back about one year when legislators were contacted by families about a drug accessible to their children at a local gas station. Families from all over North Carolina subsequently came forward, displaying the severity of the problem all over the state.

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The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate. The Food and Drug Administration first started warning about the dangers of tianeptine in 2018 and has said that the substance is linked to a rise in overdose deaths across the country. Ross said during the press conference that, ultimately, the FDA may take action to regulate it, but the federal agency is very slow to move on this type of regulation.