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MLB Looking To Ban Ephedra

Jan 14, 2004 |

Major League Baseball is currently negotiating with the players association to place the over-the-counter stimulant, ephedra, on the list of drugs banned in the big leagues.

On Dec. 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it intended to ban any dietary supplements including the substance ephedrine, pending a final ruling. In the alert, the FDA advised consumers to immediately stop buying and using products including ephedrine. Upon publication of a final ruling, the ban of those products becomes effective in 60 days.

"We're having ongoing discussions with the union," said Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, during a break in owners meetings here Wednesday. "Because ephedra is not a steroid, it doesn't automatically become banned. But we're moving toward an agreement."

Gene Orza, an associate counsel for the union who works closely with MLB on the joint drug program, couldn't be reached to comment.

MLB banned the use of ephedra at the minor-league level last spring after the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. An autopsy report revealed that a substance including ephedrine was found in Bechler's body and was a contributing factor to the death.

Ephedra, also called Ma huang, is a naturally occurring substance derived from plants. Its principal active ingredient is ephedrine, which when chemically synthesized is regulated as a drug, the FDA said in its alert. In recent years ephedra products have been extensively promoted to aid weight loss, enhance sports performance, and increase energy. Bechler came into Orioles camp last February overweight and was trying to work himself back into shape so he could secure a position on the team.

This season, all players on the 40-man rosters of MLB teams, will be subject to two random tests for 28 "Schedule III" anabolic androgenic steroids banned by the FDA. For the first time, MLB players testing positive for those drugs will go into treatment and then risk fines and suspensions for repeated use. Recreational drugs and over-the-counter nutritional substances are not included in the MLB program.

The testing program, though, is much wider in the minor leagues for players who are not on their team's 40-man roster. For those players, alcohol, recreational drugs and over-the-counter nutritional substances are included.

MLB and the union added the steroid-based tetrahydrogestrinone, commonly known as THG, to the list of testable substances after the FDA banned it last year. Only steroid-based drugs banned by the FDA are automatically added to MLB's list of tested substances.

Survey testing for all Major Leaguers on the 40-man roster began this past season and when 5 percent of the players tested positive, the program was formalized for 2004. The program was collectively bargained in 2002 as part of the Basic Agreement, which is in force through the 2006 season.

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