Gas Station Heroin: What Does it Mean for the UK?

Whilst the heroin epidemic has historically been associated with the United States, the emergence of gas station heroin risks the heralding of a UK opioid crisis.

This specific type of heroin suggests an urgent need to address the opioid threat in the UK. Currently, statistics focused on drug use published by the UK government group heroin with other drugs. For instance, one statistic indicates that there are over 300,000 people addicted to heroin and crack cocaine in England. Whilst this may be a helpful indicator, it does not go into enough detail to fully illustrate the extent of UK-based heroin use specifically.

On the other side of things, statistics solely on the use of heroin in America are very easy to come across. This suggests that in the present moment, not enough attention is paid to the pervasiveness of heroin in UK society. This is especially concerning given the rise of the use of gas station heroin across the country.


What is Gas Station Heroin?

‘Gas station heroin’ is a slang name for tianeptine. Gas station heroin refers to a specific strain of heroin that contains other opioids and has been labelled as a ‘hazardous product’ by political representatives in the United States who have lobbied for legislation to ban the production, sale and possession of the drug.

It is particularly potent and has been associated with an increased risk of overdose. The drug has been purchased on the US market under the guise of dietary supplements or has gotten through quality control and trading standards legislation by being labelled as something that is not intended for consumption.

But why is the rise of gas station heroin so concerning? What is the difference between tianeptine and the heroin that has been available through illicit trade for decades?


Heroin belongs to a class of drugs known as opioids, which are drugs with particularly strong pain killing properties that can be derived from the poppy plant. Heroin is synthesised from morphine, meaning that it is technically a morphine alkaloid. Whilst heroin started its history as a form of analgesic or pain relief, it has since been widely used in recreational contexts.

Whilst some forms of opioids can be prescribed through the NHS and private providers in the UK, the production, distribution and possession of heroin is illegal. This means that engaging with heroin in any of these contexts could lead to serious financial repercussions, including the issuing of unlimited fines and the potential of being sentenced to life in prison.

Gas Station Heroin

Gas station heroin (or tianeptine) is a form of antidepressant. It is known for its ‘novel neurochemical profile,’ as it has a unique chemical structure. This largely means that its effects are wide-ranging and potentially unpredictable.

The drug has been sold as a medical treatment for the following:

  • to regulate anxiety symptoms


  • to regulate depression symptoms


  • to regulate pain


  • to assist with weight loss


  • to ‘improve’ brain function


  • to help manage opioid use disorder


Despite all of these claims, tianeptine is not an approved medication. This means that access to tianeptine is largely through underground, illicit and unregulated sources. Gas station heroin earned its name through this illegal distribution, with the drug being sold at gas stations in the United States, as well as being available through retailers online. The sale of the drug is sometimes achieved through the use of ‘not for human consumption’ labels, meaning that it is more likely to be bypassed in any checks that may take place.


Why is it so Dangerous?

The Effects of Gas Station Heroin

Gas station heroin has been linked with a myriad of negative health effects. Reports indicate that individuals using tianeptine have experienced:

  • feeling on edge, anxious or frustrated


  • feeling confused or disoriented


  • sweating and difficulties regulating temperature


  • tachycardia (increased heartbeat)


  • increased blood pressure


  • feeling sick or vomiting


  • shallow breathing


  • coma


Data released by the FDA (the Food and Drug Association in the United States) indicates that in the thirteen years between 2000 and 2013, there were 11 cases of poisoning related to gas station heroin in America. This has skyrocketed, with 155 cases being reported in 2020 alone.

Why is This Happening?

Gas station heroin, being an illicit substance, is not regulated. This means that it is very difficult to identify what the medication being purchased contains. It is common for illegal drugs to be ‘cut’ or ‘laced’ with other substances. This is often done as a way of lowering manufacturing costs.

However, this lacing can lead to very serious consequences. If we do not know what something contains, it is close to impossible to use it safely. There is then an increased risk of overdose, as well as more general issues around drug interaction.

Why is it becoming more prevalent in the UK?

Whilst there are disparities between the US and UK opioid market trends, and more specifically, broad differences in the use of drugs between the two nations, generally speaking, over time, the drug markets begin to mirror one another.

We live in a global society. While that heralds a lot of positives, it also means that the movement of more harmful trends – such as the rise of specific substances – can easily occur across the globe.

Whilst there is some evidence that tianeptine could be an effective treatment for depression if regulated appropriately, the risk of gas station heroin lies in its complex chemistry. Without knowing what is inside the drug, there is no way to fully assess the risk of what gas station heroin can do to our bodies and how quickly it can lead to the development of a serious addiction.

Getting Help for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is very difficult to navigate on your own. Addiction can be isolating. It also comes with its own set of risks. Whilst it may feel impossible to seek support for addiction, speaking to someone about how you are feeling is ultimately the best way to reduce the risks associated with heroin.

At UKAT, we care about the safety of our clients first and foremost and, therefore, operate in a manner that models a society of care, not a society of stigma.

Our treatment programmes are designed to help you curb heroin cravings and find coping strategies to move forward into a drug-free life.

Detox from Heroin

Heroin detox is a process of withdrawing from opioids. This can be difficult, but with expert support from the teams working in our specialist rehab centres, we can help you to get through withdrawals safely. Detox typically happens at the beginning of addiction treatment; it is a way of preparing your body before approaching the psychological side of things through a range of therapeutic interventions.

Recover with Heroin Rehab

We offer a range of evidence-based therapies in our rehab centres. With a selection of holistic and talking therapies available, we aim to offer a form of support that will resonate with every patient.

These can include:

  • The 12-step programme


  • Art therapy


  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)


  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)


  • Holistic Therapy


At UKAT, we understand that heroin addiction can happen to anyone. We provide a judgement-free specialist service to help you recover from addiction in an environment where you can feel heard, respected and empowered.

We have a range of addiction rehab centres nationwide, including a specialist facility for mental health support in London. Contact us to discuss the treatment options available to begin your path towards a healthier life.