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Shelve ephedra

Other editors say

Herbal supplement tied to the death of Steve Bechler should be banned

Los Angeles Times

The death of Baltimore Oriole pitching prospect Steve Bechler of Medford 'who was reportedly using an ephedra supplement to lose weight ' was major sports news. If investigators tie the 23-year-old Bechler's death to the stimulant, it will not be a shock.

Consumer groups and the federal government have linked a long string of deaths and injuries to the product, a sort of natural mini-amphetamine derived from a Chinese herb. Not only should ephedra be banned, Congress should return to the larger issue of regulating the lucrative dietary supplement industry.

Broward County, Fla., medical examiner Joshua Perper says the player's family and Oriole officials told him Bechler had been taking ephedra-containing Xenadrine RFA-1. Ephedra, often used for bodybuilding as well as weight loss, speeds up the heart. About one-third of reported adverse effects have involved teenagers.

A report released by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Rep. Susan A. Davis, D-Calif., and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., in October 2002 revealed that Metabolife International, a major manufacturer of dietary supplements, knew of almost 2,000 reports of problems related to ephedra products. Yet manufacturers claim the products are perfectly safe and ideal for weight loss.

The Food and Drug Administration sees it differently, saying ephedra products are related to at least 80 deaths and to health problems ranging from hallucinations to high blood pressure. The National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. and the International Olympic Committee have banned ephedra. So have the armed forces. Baseball should follow suit. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has said, I wouldn't use it, would you?

That sort of individual responsibility is smart but not sufficient. The roadblock to smarter control of such drugs ' and they are drugs ' is Congress' deregulation of the supplement industry in the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, championed the act for a home-state industry, pushing to define supplements as food and exempting them from the safety reviews required for drugs. Sure, a diet of fast food also might cause health problems, but not precipitous death on the playing field.

U.S. standards for supplements are as low as the Third World's. If, as expected, the administration announces mild regulation of ephedra and manufacturing standards for other dietary supplements, it would be a first step, but not enough.

With Hatch protecting the industry, there's little appetite in Congress for truly beefing up FDA powers over supplements. But it shouldn't take 80 more deaths to get the government to take ephedra off the market.