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Schumer Wants Ban On Ephedra

Mar 3, 2003 | Newsday

New York Sen. Charles Schumer called yesterday for an immediate ban of ephedra, two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it would require warning labels for the popular herbal stimulant.

Schumer, at another of his weekly Sunday news conferences in Manhattan, said he would co-sponsor a bill planned by fellow Senate Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois to make the sale of the over-the-counter weight-loss product illegal.

The supplement, also said to enhance athletic performance, has been linked to about 100 deaths nationally, including that of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler on Feb. 17 after a workout in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I think we've seen enough to ban ephedra now, no ifs, ands or buts about it," Schumer declared.

Friday, the FDA ordered that prominent warning labels be emblazoned on the front of all ephedra products, listing death, heart attack or stroke as possible consequences of its use.

Stopping short of a ban, the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services said further investigation of the herbal product was warranted. FDA officials said it lacked sufficient evidence to meet the requirements of a 1994 law restricting the federal government's powers to regulate dietary supplements. The agency also plans to gather public comments about the stimulant.

Schumer took issue with the FDA's go-slow approach. "We don't need more public comment. We need action," adding that the labeling move is "insufficient."

In a letter yesterday to FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, Schumer listed more than 30 products being sold or soon to be placed on the market that mimic the effects of ephedra but do not contain the herb. Such "copycats" should be investigated because they contain chemicals similar to ephedra, he wrote.

Schumer warned that ephedra is popular among teen athletes, and warned parents and coaches to monitor teens for the use of dietary supplements. Westchester County has banned the sale of ephedra to people under age 18, while Suffolk County is considering a similar measure.

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