Eight California counties and one city have filed suit against the maker of a dietary supplement linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, alleging deceptive advertising.
The counties accuse Cytodyne Technologies of false and misleading advertising that does not mention possible health risks associated with Xenadrine.
Cytodyne says the pill can help people lose weight 17 times faster than diet and exercise alone. The company also contends the supplement increases strength, energy and endurance and that no other similar product has produced such results.
The suit says dietary supplements containing ephedra, an herbal stimulant, have been associated with increased blood pressure and increased irritability of the heart, which can lead to heart conditions and death.
Ephedra is banned by the NFL, the NCAA and IOC but not by Major League Baseball. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reports of at least 100 deaths linked to the supplement.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has already banned players on minor league contracts from using ephedra and the players union urged its members last Friday to “be extremely reluctant to use any products containing ephedra.”
The counties are seeking a court order forcing the company, which is based in Manasquan, New Jersey, to stop using claims about Xenadrine that haven’t been substantiated and to have the company include information about known health risks in its ads for the supplement. It also seeks restitution for California customers and civil penalties.
“There is a known association between ephedra products and very serious health problems,” San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Michael Hudson said. “People don’t realize that just because it’s natural, that doesn’t make it safe. Tobacco is natural.”
The company defended its product and said prosecutors are trying to take advantage of publicity surrounding ephedra.
A Florida medical examiner linked ephedra to Bechler, who died Feb. 17 after collapsing at spring training. The toxicology report from Bechler’s autopsy is scheduled to be released on Thursday.
“Cytodyne Technologies confidently stands behind the efficacy of its products and the truthfulness of our advertising claims,” company chief executive Bob Chinery said in statement. “It’s not a coincidence that at this time the prosecutors have decided to file these allegations, given the current sensationalized climate surrounding ephedra.”
The suit was filed Monday in Napa County Superior Court by Napa, San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Sonoma, Monterey, San Benito and Kern counties, as well as the city of San Diego.
On Feb. 28, the Food and Drug Administration proposed warning labels that pills containing ephedra can cause heart attacks and strokes or even kill. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said a full ban was still possible.