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Diet Drug Missing From Most Local Shelves

Ephedra already hard to find in the area

Jan 8, 2004 | The Free Lance-Star

Although the federal ban on ephedra has not gone into effect yet, the controversial diet drug is already hard to find in the Fredericksburg area.

Ephedra, an herbal supplement that gained popularity as an energy booster and quick weight-loss aid, was pulled from local shelves months before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it as a potential health risk last week.

Because of paperwork requirements, the earliest the FDA could enforce the ban is in March.

"It's not that it's off the market yet," said Daphne Davis, a pharmacist at Rite Aid off U.S. 1. in Fredericksburg. "But Rite Aid and other chains decided to take it out of their stores for safety and liability reasons."

According to the FDA, ephedra can cause an increase in blood pressure and has been linked to 155 deaths and many heart attacks and strokes in the United States.

Concerns about its safety became an issue last February when ephedra contributed to the death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

Local retailers said few, if any, customers have requested ephedra since it has been in the news.

GNC, which has more than 5,000 health food stores across the country, banned products containing ephedra in June.

Wal-Mart Spokeswoman Danette Thompson said customers seem to prefer ephedra-free products, so they removed ephedra from their stores in May.

Pharmacist Doug Harris at the CVS near Mary Washington Hospital said his company returned all of their ephedra merchandise to the manufacturer months ago after bad publicity began to surface about the diet drug.

"People that were using it were kind of panicking," Harris said.

Other local retailers won't have any ephedra to return.

"We never had it in any of our products," said Bertha Romagnoli, owner of Shaklee Product Distributors in Fredericksburg. "It causes heart problems, complications, seizures, and that's not something I want to sell to my customers."

Carl Braun, owner of Highlander Health and Fitness in downtown Fredericksburg, said the common problem with diet pills like ephedra is abuse.

"People want a quick fix and take 20 times the amount that they should," Braun said. "I'm very pleased that they banned it."

Former body builder Joan Sharperson Hailstalk, 40, of Spotsylvania said retailers made a good decision by stopping the sale of ephedra.

"Stores may end up with a loss in profit, but it's much better than a lawsuit," Hailstalk said.

Although ephedra and ephedra-containing products aren't easily available locally, they can still be bought online.

Ephedra is sometimes disguised on labels of weight-loss or body building products by other names, such as Ma Huang or Desert Herb. It used to be found in popular diet supplements like Metabolife, Herbal Fen-Phen, Stacker and Xenadrine RFA.

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