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Blagojevich Pushes Ban On Ephedra

May 15, 2003 | Chicago Sun Times Labeling ephedra a potential killer, Gov. Blagojevich called Wednesday for a state ban on products containing the dietary supplement.

"It's cheap, popular and widely available. It's also dangerous," he told a news conference in the offices of the American Heart Association.

Ephedra was suspected in the death of Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler in 2001 and partly to blame in the February death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

Appearing with the governor was Kevin Riggins, father of Sean Riggins, a 16-year-old wrestler and football player from Downstate Lincoln who died last September after consuming Yellow Jackets a dietary supplement containing ephedra.

"Illinois can be the first state to ban ephedra," Riggins said. Although 21 other states have tried, "the industry has managed to kill [legislation] or impose age limitations," he said.

He and his wife, Debbie, have formed the Sean Riggins Foundation for Substance-Free Schools.

The dietary supplement is advertised as enhancing athletic ability and aiding in weight loss, but a Rand Corp. study found no evidence it does either.

"Not only are there essentially no benefits from taking ephedra, it can kill you," Blagojevich said. "Unless a doctor prescribes it, you're playing Russian roulette with this product."

A ban on supplements containing ephedra has been urged by the heart association, American Medical Association and Illinois State Medical Society.

Also supporting action are the National Basketball Association, National Football League, NCAA and International Olympic Committee.

Legislation proposed by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and state Sen. Barack Obama, both Chicago Democrats, would make sale of ephedra products illegal in Illinois.

"There's too much pressure in society to excel at sports and be thin," Obama said. "Our children need to know a healthy diet and exercise is always a better alternative especially to a supplement that may kill them."

Ephedra, or ma huang, is found in products such as Ripped Fuel, Diet Fuel, Metabolife and Herbalife. Ephedra-free versions are sometimes available.

"I never recommend it," said Matt Regan, pharmacy team manager at CVS Pharmacy, 175 W. Jackson. "It can be dangerous."

Ephedra has been linked to 117 deaths and 18,000 cases of heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. Of all deaths caused by herbal products, 60 percent are blamed on ephedra.

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