An Oklahoma City waitress who took an energy-enhancing supplement with ephedra and had a stroke later that day filed a $125 million civil lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the popular herb contributed to her left-side paralysis.
Ella Yvonne Holladay, 66, names as defendants Phoenix Health Products of California and a Conoco gasoline station where she bought a packet of “Ultra Energy Now” tablets June 24, 2001.
“These pills should be taken off the market and thrown away. They should all be thrown away,” Holladay said Wednesday in a whisper, her voice affected by the stroke.
The lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court claims Ultra Energy Now contained ephedra and other ingredients that when combined were hazardous to Holladay and “to the public as a whole.”
The woman’s attorneys allege Ultra Energy Now was “a dangerously defective product in its manufacturing, processing, design, labeling and lack of warnings” and “unfit for the purposes contemplated by the ordinary consumer.”
The lawsuit contends Ultra Energy Now lists Ma Huang on its label, but doesn’t state that ephedra is a primary active ingredient of Ma Huang. The lawsuit charges “reckless, willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the public.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that warning labels must be placed on bottles and packets of ephedra because it has been linked to life-threatening side effects, even when used by outwardly healthy people in recommended doses.
That’s because it speeds the heart rate and constricts blood vessels, according to the FDA. Effects from the herb can be exacerbated by exercise and the use of other stimulants such as caffeine, according to the agency.
The herbal supplement that millions of people take to lose weight and boost energy recently was tied to the death of Major League Baseball player Steve Bechler.
The Washington-based Ephedra Education Council says the herb is safe when taken as directed. Because it is an herb, federal law allows manufacturers to sell it over the counter.
Consumer advocates have pushed for a ban of the amphetamine-like stimulant.
The FDA has told 24 companies that target ephedra to young athletes and bodybuilders to stop that type of marketing.
Numerous attempts Wednesday to contact representatives of Phoenix Health Products of Oak View, Calif., were unsuccessful.
Richard Price, a spokesman for the Ephedra Education Council, told The Oklahoman that Phoenix Health Products is not a council member. He said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Holladay, now in a wheelchair, said Wednesday she bought the tablets at a southside gasoline station-convenience store before her Sunday morning shift at Jimmy’s Roundup restaurant, where she had been a waitress for nine years.
James F. Self, the woman’s Oklahoma City attorney, said Holladay was taking no other prescription or over-the-counter medications when she took Ultra Energy Now.