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Illinois Bans Ephedra

May 16, 2003 | UPI Illinois Friday was poised to become the first state to ban dietary supplements containing the herbal stimulant ephedra, which has been blamed for several high-profile deaths in recent years.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he would sign the measure, which was given unanimous final approval by the Illinois House Thursday.

The supplement, which is touted as an effective weight loss product, has been blamed for more than 100 deaths and 18,000 adverse reactions, including heart attacks, seizures and strokes.

The issue came to a head following the death earlier this year of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who suffered heat stroke after taking three ephedra capsules. In 2001, Northwestern University defensive back Rashidi Wheeler and Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Korey Stringer died within weeks of each other under similar circumstances.

Ephedra, which is extracted from the Chinese herb Ma Huang, has become a $1 billion industry. The bill adopted Thursday makes it a misdemeanor to sell ephedra, punishable by a year in jail and $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders could face five years in jail and a $20,000 fine.

The bill does not apply to ephedra contained in cold remedies or make it a crime to possess the substance, which could still be purchased over the Internet or in neighboring states.

Jan Stroke, a spokeswoman for the dietary supplement Metabolife, criticized the Illinois action, saying it deprives adults of the chance to make an educated choice. She maintained if it is used correctly, ephedra has no adverse effects.

In addition to its weight loss effects, ephedra also is seen as enhancing athletic performance and as an aid in staying awake. The tablets generally also contain caffeine.

The Food and Drug Administration currently is trying to determine whether a federal ban is warranted.

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