The diet supplement ephedra was partly to blame for the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, a medical examiner said Thursday.
Toxicology tests confirmed that “significant amounts” of an over-the-counter supplement containing the herb led to the heatstroke, along with other factors, Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said.
The 23-year-old pitcher was taking the supplement to lose weight during spring training when he collapsed Feb. 16. He died the next day after his temperature rose to 108.
Ephedra is banned by many sports leagues but not major league baseball.
Perper said in a news release that the toxicology analysis showed ephedrine in Bechler’s blood along with smaller amounts of two other stimulants, pseudoephedrine and caffeine.
That’s consistent with taking three tablets of the weight-loss supplement Xenadrine, Perper said.
Xenadrine and other risk factors contributed to Bechler’s death, Perper said. But he said the analysis showed no alcohol or other drugs in Bechler’s system, other than those used to treat him at a hospital.
After Bechler died, commissioner Bud Selig banned players with minor league contracts from taking ephedra. The players’ union has urged players not to take the amphetaminelike stimulant.
Neither the union nor Selig have taken a position on whether it should be banned for major leaguers.
“We remain prepared to discuss the issues raised by Mr. Bechler’s tragic death with the Players Association,” major league baseball said in a statement.
Cytodyne Technologies, which makes Xenadrine, said the coroner rushed to judgment.
“The fact that the medical examiner found traces of ephedra in Mr. Bechler’s system does not mean that Mr. Bechler died from ephedra. He died from heatstroke,” said Shane Freedman, legal officer for the manufacturer.
The Ephedra Education Council, an industry group, said Perper’s conclusions weren’t based on science.
“The current science supports the safety and significant weight loss benefits of ephedra when it is used according to industry standards,” the council said in a statement.
Ephedra, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble before, is already banned by the NCAA, NFL and International Olympic Committee.
The Bush administration began building the case toward a possible ban of ephedra last month by proposing strong new warning labels that the substance can cause heart attacks and strokes or even kill.
Such labels, blocked until now by the dietary supplement industry, could be on every bottle by year’s end.
Critics called the proposal a timid step that will cost lives. The Food and Drug Administration says at least 100 deaths have been linked to ephedra, but it remains available without a prescription in diet supplements.
Perper, who interviewed the player’s family and Orioles officials, said he was told Bechler took three tablets each morning of Xenadrine RFA-1. A bottle of the supplement was found in Bechler’s locker after his collapse.
A memorial service for Bechler drew 800 people Saturday in his hometown of Medford, Ore.