Airman Todd Lee was trying to drop a few pounds to stay within his weight requirements for the Air Force.
But Lee, 21, died in the back seat of his mother’s car while traveling to his Oklahoma City home after taking a recommended dosage of an ephedra-based product.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court, attorneys for Lee’s mother claim Stacker 2, an ephedra-based diet supplement, caused the cardiac dysrhythmia that killed Lee.
Ephedra, an herbal stimulant, was banned by the federal Food and Drug Administration in April. It was once widely used for weight loss and bodybuilding.
The stimulant, paired with other herbs, acts like amphetamine in the body, speeding up the heart rate and constricting blood vessels. Ephedra has been linked to 155 deaths, including Steve Bechler, a pitching prospect for the Baltimore Orioles.
The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of Lee’s mother, Camille, as well as damages to cover the lawsuit and Lee’s burial expenses.
Lee began taking Stacker 2 in October 2002 while stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. He died in June 2003 shortly after being transferred to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
The lawsuit names New Jersey-based NVE Pharmaceuticals, which makes the dietary supplement, as a defendant. Pittsburg-based General Nutrition Corp., which operates GNC stores where Lee purchased the supplement while living in Georgia, is also named as a defendant.
The Smoke Shop, an Oklahoma City tobacco store, where Lee purchased Stacker 2 while in Oklahoma, is also named in the suit.
Terry Gaffney, a representative for NVE, said the company was unaware of the lawsuit and refused to comment until company officials had seen the legal filings.
NVE still sells Stacker products, but they are now ephedra free, Gaffney said.