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Coroner Suggests Ephedrine Played A Role In Death of Oriole Pitcher As Mets and Yanks Ae Biefed About The Dangers

Feb 19, 2003 | The Staten Island Advance While medical examiners determine exactly why Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler died Monday of heatstroke, several Mets said they would stop using ephedrine, a stimulant which a Broward County (Fla.) coroner said probably contributed to Bechler's death. Other Mets said they would try to learn more about the substance first.

The Mets and Yankees received briefings from their medical staffs yesterday about the hazards of overheating, and both teams were told of the dangers of ephedrine and other unregulated, though legal, substances.

Ephedra is an over-the-counter stimulant containing ephedrine. It is used by many people to control their appetite and provide energy. It has been linked to the death of Minnesota Vikings lineman Corey Stringer in August 2001. It is also present in cold medicines and about 200 so-called nutritional and dietary supplements, leaving Mets pitcher Tom Glavine to assume he has taken it before, unwittingly.

"You never know with all the supplements and vitamins we take," he said.

Although ephedra has not been conclusively linked to Bechler's death, players were clearly ready to believe it was part of the cause. Only toxicology tests can confirm whether there was ephedrine in Bechler's system, and those results won't be available for at least two weeks.

Meanwhile, Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said Bechler had been taking an over-the-counter supplement that contained ephedrine, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble.

Perper urged baseball to ban the stimulant, and its risks along with warnings about hot weather were a topic of clubhouse conversation throughout big league training camps. EXTRA ENERGY

"I've used it before, but I stopped," said Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd, who would take ephedra before games to prevent him from eating too much and getting bloated. "I used it last year, but I started getting jittery and lightheaded, so I stopped. They tell you not to use it, but I figured different strokes for different folks. I figured if I needed it to get going, I could still be careful. It gives you a lot of energy. A lot of energy. But I'm not going to take it anymore. It's a sad, terrible thing what happened."

John Bale, a 27-year-old minor-league pitcher for the Mets who used to be in the Orioles organization, played with Bechler in spring training the past two seasons and became good friends with him.

"I think a lot of us are guilty of taking it," Bale said. "Maybe it's something that should be banned. I'm not going to take it at all now. It's not worth it."

Bechler, whom the Orioles considered overweight, collapsed during a workout Sunday and died Monday of multi-organ failure due to heatstroke. His body temperature reached 108 degrees before he died after a workout in relatively humid, 80-degree weather. A bottle of ephedra was reportedly found in his locker.

Major League Baseball does not test for or ban ephedra, and would not be able to without consent of the Players' Association. MLB and the union declined to comment until further information is gathered.

"We're going to wait until we know more about what happened before we comment," MLB spokesman Rich Levin said. DOC PROPOSES BAN

The NFL and NCAA prohibit the use of ephedra and Yankees physician Stuart Hershon said baseball should do the same.

"It's a stimulant," Hershon said. "It increases the heart rate. I think it should be banned, but there's nothing we can do. We've advised our players that it would be better not to use it."

Hershon said he's not aware of any Yankees using ephedra, but he didn't rule it out, and he said the Yankees address the issue every year. After players came off the field yesterday each one had an article titled "The effect of heat on athletes" at his locker.

Andrew Rokito, the Mets' team physician, gave a presentation to the team before they worked out yesterday, stressing the importance of hydration. The Mets are asked to drink 16 to 20 ounces of water two hours before they work out, seven to 10 ounces every 10 or 20 minutes while they work out, and 24 ounces afterward.

Rokito said Bechler's death was the first incident he has seen of heatstroke in baseball, and warned that summertime is even more dangerous.

"I'm surprised we don't see it more often," Rokito said. "We've been fortunate, to some extent." ANNUAL TALK

One of ephedra's effects is it restricts the body's ability to control body temperature through sweating. Mets pitcher Tyler Walker is known to perspire profusely, and said he has stopped taking ephedra because he was concerned about the potential ill effects.

"I've taken it about a dozen times," he said. "I sweat a lot already and that's the way my body is. I know it prevents that and gets the heart rate up. I would get too worked up on the mound. It's not something to be taken lightly. It stirred up the whole (pitching) staff."

Mets assistant general manager Jim Duquette said the team briefs minor league players en masse on the first day of camp and stresses how dangerous ephedra and other substances can be. He said without regulation from the FDA, there's no telling what's in the supplements people buy.

"It's something that needs to be looked into very carefully," Duquette said.

But even before Bechler's death, teams had been telling their players they do not recommend ephedra and players continue using it. Some still say they might continue after they gather more information.

Al Leiter said he has used ephedra, which can be bought at any nutrition center, "off and on for the past five years," and it hasn't been a problem for him.

"I trust the labels," he said. "Maybe that's naive of me, but the amount I take is well below what they prescribe."

Leiter said that before he makes a decision on taking it further, he wants to do more research.

"I'd like to know more about it," he said. "It might be a question of proper dosage. Caffeine is a stimulant and you don't want to drink 12 cups of coffee before exercising. But no one's saying you shouldn't drink any coffee."

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