The sale of ephedra, the herbal stimulant linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, will be outlawed in New York City if a bill that will be introduced today becomes law.
The bill, sponsored by City Council Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Staten Island), Council member Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, is modeled after a Suffolk County law that went into effect two weeks ago.
“We need to protect people from the terrible side effects that have been associated with ephedra because existing laws relating to dietary supplements lack protections for consumers,” Gotbaum said during a news conference yesterday on the steps of City Hall. “The purpose of the law we will introduce tomorrow is to better protect people from this untested, unscreened and unsupervised drug.”
Oddo said the bill is a local attempt to tighten loopholes created when Congress approved the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which exempts dietary supplements from pre-market safety testing. “Ephedra is a drug and not a dietary supplement and should be regulated,” Oddo said. “Ideally, this should happen on the federal level, but with the legislation I have introduced, this should open up another front.”
Wes Siegner of the Ephedra Education Council, an industry trade group, said ephedra has been proven to be safe when used as directed and is an effective weight-loss tool. “Banning these products is not the responsible thing to do,” he said.
The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed requiring ephedra manufacturers to place labels warning of potentially serious health risks, particularly to those active in sports. The agency left open the possibility that it will seek greater restrictions on the over-the-counter supplement.
Suffolk County passed the first outright ban on the sale of ephedra, which has been linked to more than 100 deaths plus strokes, seizures, heart attacks and other health problems. Several bills that would ban the sale of ephedra have been introduced in the state legislature, and Illinois, California and Massachusetts are also considering proposals to outlaw the diet and energy supplement. Numerous municipalities and counties ban the sale to minors.
In March, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Dietary Supplement Safety Act, which would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to require proof of safety from supplement makers if the FDA gets complaints that the product has caused health problems. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is a co-sponsor.
The sister of a SUNY-Albany football player who died in 1996 after taking ephedra applauded the New York bill.
“He thought it would give him an energy boost,” said Christine Schlendorf, whose brother Peter died while on spring break in Florida. “Ephedra is not a harmless herb but a serious drug.”