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State Seeks Ephedra Ban

Jun 11, 2003 | Newsday

Following Suffolk County's example, leaders of the State Legislature plan to ban over-the-counter sales of ephedra, an herbal stimulant that has been blamed for more than 100 deaths nationwide.

If it passes, New York would be the second state after Illinois to ban the controversial nutritional supplement, which is sold as a weight-loss aid and muscle builder. In March, Suffolk County became one of the first local governments in the nation to enact a ban on ephedra, which a Florida medical examiner said contributed to the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

The Food and Drug Administration, which has been weighing a nationwide ban on the supplement, does not currently regulate ephedra. The herb, which is often combined with caffeine, aspirin and other drugs, is tough to regulate because it is considered a dietary supplement and not a drug, lawmakers said.

"New York is going to move now and ban this," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick). "It should be done by the feds, but hopefully they will come along. If not, we hope that state after state will move to save lives."

Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), who introduced the legislation in the Senate, said he hopes it will pass as early as this week.

The Assembly is still debating who should enforce the state ban, but the sponsor, Assemb. Audrey Pheffer (D-Belle Harbor), said an agreement on a bill is forthcoming. Gov. George Pataki said yesterday that he generally supports the idea.

Fuschillo said that Twin Labs, one manufacturer, already has voluntarily agreed to stop making it. Wes Siegner, general counsel of the Ephedra Education Council, said there is no concrete evidence linking ephedra to many of the deaths the drug is blamed for. He said his organization wants the supplement to be regulated but not banned.

But several people who spoke at a Senate news conference yesterday said they have no doubt that ephedra killed their friends and loved ones.

Mike Flanagan, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, retold the event that first brought the drug's dangers to national attention: Bechler's death.

"It speeds your heart rate, thins your blood and it raises your core temperature to the point where Steve Bechler was trying to run back and forth across the field at [a body temperature of] 108 degrees," said Flanagan, who was there when Bechler died Feb. 17.

Karen Schlendorf, of Northport, said her 20-year-old son Peter died after taking ephedra. "His future was taken away from him because a company cared more about profits than about the safety of their consumers," she said.

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