An Alabama mother is urging health officials to ban a toxic supplement sold at gas stations after her 19-year-old son died after taking it to relieve his migraine.
Johnathon Morrison, of Trafford, Alabama, fatally choked on his own vomit in February 2019 after taking pills containing tianeptine, also known as “gas station heroin.”
The Food and Drug Administration has previously warned of serious harm from the substance, which is most commonly found in an energy-boosting product called Neptune’s Fix.
The compound, called tianeptine, is also available for legal purchase in many states in capsule and pill form, and produces an intense, opioid-like high, according to the FDA.
After her son’s death, Kristi Terry was determined to ban the substance in Alabama, and a year later, the state became the second to outlaw the drug.
Tianeptine is now banned in eight states, but Terry wants to increase that number.
Johnathon Morrison was found in his bedroom in February 2019 with an empty bottle of Tianeptine pills next to him.
Tianeptine is a medication used to treat depression but is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
After her son’s death, Kristi Terry was determined to ban the substance in Alabama and testified at a state Senate hearing on health care in February 2020.
Mrs. Terri told him Vice that the night before her son died, he came into her room and asked her to cook pizza rolls.
She said: “We thought, ‘You don’t have to ask for something to be cooked.'”
She wished she had gotten up to see if he was feeling sick, asking him if he was sick from the pills and trying to calm his stomach with food.
The next time he saw his son, he was dead.
Paramedics attempted to revive Mr Morrison for 60 minutes but were unsuccessful.
A medical report obtained by Vice noted that he had high levels of tianeptine in his system. The report indicated that the teen choked to death on his vomit and that his death was considered accidental.
The coroner added in a report that the levels of tianeptine in his blood were similar to the level found in another tianeptine death in which no other drugs were detected.
At least four deaths have been reported in people taking tianeptine since it appeared in the U.S. in the mid-2010s.
But poisonings are increasing, in the last two decades, going from reports of only 11 poisonings between 2000 and 2013 to 151 in 2020.
FDA officials say tianeptine can produce an effect similar to that achieved with some opioids, but they cautioned that many patients become hooked quickly because they can quickly develop tolerance to the substance.
Health officials also warn that people taking tianeptine may experience confusion, sweating, tachycardia, blood pressure spikes, nausea, vomiting, and agitation.
Some may also suffer a noticeable slowing of breathing and, in rare cases, a complete shutdown of the respiratory system leading to coma or death.
Morrison was unaware of the risks associated with tianeptine. The University of Alabama student purchased the product at a gas station in hopes of relieving his migraine.
Looking for painkillers, an employee offered the teen Tianna, a popular brand of tianeptine.
Terry told Vice that his son “had no idea what he was taking.” They told him it was all natural, herbal and like a powerful Tylenol.’
He took several pills at once over the next few hours and eventually overdosed.
The extent to which tianeptine toxicity may have contributed to Morrison’s death remains uncertain, “either directly due to the toxic effects of the drug or indirectly by potentially lowering his seizure threshold,” the autopsy said.
After her son’s death, Ms. Terry, who was bedridden following the teen’s death with post-traumatic stress disorder, was determined to ban the substance in Alabama and testified at a state Senate health care hearing in February 2020.
“He was just the light of my life and he was my best friend,” she said, according to an audio recording of the hearing.
Also testifying at the hearing was James Morrissette, CEO and founder of MT Brands, a company that makes Tianaa.
He said the product is marketed as relieving stress and anxiety, but people are starting to abuse the product.
Morrissette also said he supported stricter regulations to ban the substance and increase the age limit allowed to purchase the product.
A year after the hearing, Alabama became the second state to ban tianeptine, behind Florida, which classifies the drug in the same category as heroin.
Since then, six states have followed.
However, Ms Terry believes not enough is being done and said it “sickens her; that there are millions of Americans who can still buy the drug legally and easily.
He added: “I feel like Johnathon’s story is what got it banned in Alabama. I really do. The senators and everyone had to look at my son’s picture.