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'Gas station heroin:' Northeast Ohio family says substance banned in Ohio is still available, deadly

A wrongful death lawsuit alleges Lorain Co. gas station knowingly sold tianeptine elixir
Posted at 5:10 PM, Jun 14, 2024

LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — The drug called “gas station heroin” and marketed as “happiness in a bottle” has been banned in Ohio since 2022, but a Northeast Ohio family said tianeptine is still having deadly consequences.

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The family of Chris Haggarty has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. It alleges the manufacturer knowingly created and a Lorain County gas station knowingly sold an elixir that caused the 37-year-old’s death.

“The people that are selling it, they know what they’re selling. The people that are making it, they know what they’re making. They’re making it on purpose. They know there are people out there looking for this kind of feeling or this kind of high,” said Karen Haggarty.

Karen said her son had a larger-than-life presence, and his loss has created an even larger void.

“Chris is a firecracker. He has a great heart, he has a great smile, he has a great daughter,” she said. “My son was not quiet ever. I miss it. It’s the silence that’s really, really hard.”

She explained her son was recovering from alcoholism and had relapsed in the summer of 2023. She believes Chris purchased a bottle of Neptune’s Fix from the K&B Sunoco in November 2023 as an alternative to alcohol. The elixir is billed as a mood-altering substance “superior to kratom.” Kratom is a legal substance with opioid and stimulant-like effects.

“He was trying desperately to not drink,” Karen said. “So he figured he’d go up to this little mood-altering ‘happy juice’ and it’s not so happy. It killed him.”

A toxicology and coroner’s report concluded Chris died from the toxic effects of tianeptine and two cannabinoid substances. They were listed as the main ingredients in Neptune’s Fix.

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“It is very, very serious and deadly. It can cause seizures. It can cause respiratory depression and it can cause death,” said Jordan Lebovitz, a trial attorney and partner at the Nurenberg Paris law firm.

In 2018, the FDA issued warning letters to companies selling products containing tianeptine and marketed as dietary supplements. The substance is used as an antidepressant drug in some parts of the world but is not approved for any use in the U.S. Earlier this year; the federal agency issued a warning about the risks of adverse effects and death.

RELATED: FDA issues warning for 'gas station heroin' as adverse reports rise

In 2022, Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order classifying tianeptine as a Schedule I controlled substance and banning the sale of any products containing the drug.

Despite the state ban and federal directives, the lawsuit said Chris Haggarty was able to readily purchase the substance for $15 at his local convenience store.

“All of the gas stations and other establishments should have known then - do not sell this because it’s dangerous,” said Lebovitz. “The product was labeled and marketed as ‘happiness in a bottle,’ sitting there on the shelves and just as easy to purchase as a pack of gum.”

News 5 attempted to contact Neptune’s Fix manufacturer, Neptune Resources, LLC. We left several voicemail messages for a number associated with the Kansas City-based business but have not received a response by Friday.

Likewise, News 5 also visited the S&B Sunoco gas station in Carlisle Township named in the lawsuit. A clerk there said the store does not sell Neptune’s Fix or other tianeptine products. He agreed to have the gas station’s owner contact us, but we have not heard back.

Karen said she wants both businesses to know the pain she’s experienced since she lost her son.

“My life will never be the same again,” she said. “We need to get them in jail, we need to get them off the streets, we need to abolish all of this.”

The lawsuit is seeking damages from both parties, but Karen and her attorney both said money is not the objective.

“We really want this product off the shelves. We do not want to be sold to any other human being in the state of Ohio and in the country,” said Lebovitz.

Karen added, “It’s terrible. I never want anybody else to feel like this, nobody. For $15?”

Lebovitz said the next step in legal proceedings will be discovery. During that process, he explained the legal team will investigate where the drug is coming from and how businesses have been able to circumvent the rules to sell it in Ohio.

He believes many other families and individuals have been subject to the substance’s toxic effects.

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