Cheap, addictive and potentially deadly: Michigan’s fight against Tianeptine

Posted at 10:49 PM, Dec 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-23 22:49:21-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- With dangerous effects and a sales pitch similar to K2 Synthetic Marijuana, Tianeptine has caught the attention of law enforcement and lawmakers in Michigan.

Becoming the first state to schedule the drug as illegal, Michigan takes the lead on banning a substance doctors say is compounding the ongoing opioid crisis.

Doctor William Morrone, a lab professional, began seeing strange deaths similar to opioid overdoses a few years ago and couldn’t pinpoint the cause.

“You’d take them to toxicology and autopsy and you wouldn’t see any heroin and you wouldn’t see any cocaine and you’d say, ‘well what did they die of?’” Morrone told FOX17 via Skype.

“It really superzooms them up like cocaine and meth, but it also - in the brain - works on the same receptor as opioids, so you get that heroine affect,” he added.

Tianeptine was developed as an oral-use antidepressant in 1950s France, but is being widely abused in the United States. It doesn’t help that the substance is very easy to modify for different kinds of use.

“You can modify that molecule to make it easier to snort based on that very simple handle,” says Grand Valley State University Biomedicine Professor Babasola Fateye. “You can modify that structure to make it easier to shoot up, you can vape it, just by modifying that little handle.”

Still federally legal, doses of Tianeptine can be easily accessed at online sites such as Amazon. And it doesn’t appear in most drug screenings, so offenders who were under court mandate to be drug tested were still using Tianeptine on the streets.

With cases popping up out of the Midland area, State Senator Rick Jones sponsored Senate Bill 801 to make Tianeptine a schedule-2 illegal substance in Michigan. It passed this year.

“They saw it in Midland, it was being sold on the streets and people get highly addicted to this,” Sen. Jones said. “So it would only be available by prescription, and nobody is prescribing this.”