PELL CITY — The Pell City Council has approved an ordinance banning the sale and distribution of Tianeptine within the city limits.
During its regular meeting Monday, the council approved an ordinance that makes the sale of products containing the substance, sometimes called Tianna or ZaZa, a misdemeanour punishable by a fine of $500, 60 days in jail, and possible the revocation of a business license.
During the council’s work session Mayor Bill Pruitt said he brought the issue to the council after encountering the effect Tianeptine has on people through his law practice.
Pruitt said the products are often sold over the counter at gas stations or vape shops as a focus enhancer and dietary supplement, but are actually addictive. He said he recently became aware of it because of the experience of two of his clients. He said one of his clients, a recovering addict, returned to drug use because he couldn't stop using Tianeptine. Pruitt said another client also told him that the substance can be particularly painful when trying to stop using it.
Pruitt said a woman from Locust Fork also shared with him the story of how her son, who was in college at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, used Tianeptine as a study aid and eventually ended up overdosing on the substance.
The Mayor said there is currently a bill in the Alabama Legislature to ban the substance, as well as a pending rule change from the Alabama Department of Public Health banning it. Pruitt said while both of those measures are needed at the state level, he feels they may simply take too long to handle what he believes to be a pressing issue.
“It could take over a month, and this stuff is just so dangerous we have to move immediately,” Pruitt said. “They are moving as fast as they can at that level, but I’m just not willing to wait any longer and let any more lives be ruined by it.”
Councilwoman Ivi McDaniel said she has also encountered Tianeptine in her work as a substance abuse counselor. She said the drug is very well known in rehabs, with some clients leaving the program because of it
“They are leaving the program for it, they sneak out for it, it's a huge struggle.” McDaniel said.
She also pointed out the drug is incredibly easy to get. McDaniel said it is as simple as walking into a gas station and asking for it, there is no identification required or questions asked.
St. Clair County Presiding Judge Phillip Seay said he had also encountered the substance in his drug court program.
St. Clair District Attorney Lyle Harmon said the ADPH had previously attempted to classify the drug the same as Methamphetamine, but was stopped by a civil lawsuit. He said the legislature also took up the issue last year, but the bill died due to the pandemic ending the session early.
Harmon said he has seen the damage the drug has done but is unable to do anything about it. He said he regularly takes calls from the Alabama Department of Human Resources about how the drug is breaking up families.
“My job is not to pass law; my job is to enforce the law,” Harmon said. “Right now that stuff is legal and there's nothing I can do about it.”
Harmon and Seay both commended the city for taking up the issue.
After the ordinance was passed, Pruitt said he hopes that just passing it the council has made the issue public enough to see change.
“We understand that someone can go across city lines and buy it,” Pruitt said.
He said he hopes that by making the issue public and taking a decisive stance on it other cities will be encouraged to also take action against the products.