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Illinois Shelves Ephedra-Free

May 28, 2003 | Rock Island Argus

Mother Hubbard's Cupboard manager Sharon Dusenberry noticed something missing from a glass case on her counter Tuesday afternoon as people shuffled in to pay for gas and food.

The product she no longer sells at 1700 18th Ave. is ephedra, an herbal supplement marketed at times as an athletic performance enhancer and dietary supplement.

On Sunday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the nation's first ban of the product, which has been linked to more than 100 deaths.

``We sold a lot,'' Ms. Dusenberry said. ``People said they took it for energy, others for asthma.''

The product was sold in bottles or packs of six, she said. Sold as diet pills, it contains ephedrine, ephedra's active ingredient.

Although ephedra has been at the crux of investigations involving deaths, such as Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler in February, many non-athletes purchased the product over the counter, according to Ms. Dusenberry.

She said the product was never sold to anyone under 18, but added most of those coming in to buy it were middle-aged.

``I used to tell them if they were too tired, they should go to bed earlier,'' she said.

Ephedra has been a hot topic nationwide. On May 2, General Nutrition Centers said it would stop selling products containing ephedra as of June 30.

Stephanie Mangini, GNC spokesperson out of Pittsburgh, Pa., said the product was a big seller last year at their 4,500 nationwide stores, including those in the Quad-Cities. GNC is the nation's largest specialty retailer of nutritional supplements.

``Now, with everything that's happened, people are looking toward ephedra-free alternatives,'' Ms. Mangini said. ``GNC continues to believe it is safe when used as directed.''

Rochel Rittgers, director of sports medicine at Augustana College, said the ban was a positive step. Ms. Rittgers, who is also chairman of the NCAA drug testing and drug education subcommittee, said ephedra has positive benefits with regard to weight loss.

The problem, though, is ephedra is a stimulant with adverse potential effects including heart attack, stroke, dizziness, headache, and irregular heartbeat, according to Ms. Rittgers.

``I think the athletes use it as a performance enhancer, again, with the positive benefit to increased metabolism,'' Ms. Rittgers said. ``We didn't see a lot of it here, but that's not to say people aren't using it.

``At the Division III level, the only time we test for drugs is during championships, so athletes don't get tested very often.''

Vic Boblett, head football coach for Rock Island High School, said there definitely are questions surrounding ephedra use.

``I'd be surprised if I saw kids going across the river to get it,'' Coach Boblett said. ``I'm opposed to it all together. You can get what you need from eating correctly rather than from a magic pill.''

Larry Swanson, assistant principal for athletics at North High School in Davenport, said he talks to kids constantly about the use of any supplement, including ephedra. Still legal in Iowa, he said it is hard to control whether athletes are buying it.

Ephedra is still available at just about any gas station outlet on the Iowa side of the river.

``It's a constant challenge to keep kids informed on this and how it can affect their lives,'' Mr. Swanson said.

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