Dangerous Enough To Ban?

Peter Schlendorf died after taking Ephedra supplement CBS

There is a new frontline in the fight over widely sold supplements
containing the controversial drug Ephedra.

As CBS News has reported, the U.S. military is concerned enough about Ephedra's safety to ban sales at base stores.

Now, a survey of U.S. poison-control centers suggests two-thirds of all bad reactions to herbal supplements involve Ephedra.

Peter Schlendorf bought one such herbal supplement, an energy booster containing the drug Ephedra on spring break in Florida. As soon as he took it, his heart began to race uncontrollably. His buddies left him in the motel to rest.

As CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, when his friends came back to the room, he was gone. He had died.

The medical examiner blamed Ephedra.

How could there be something out there that you can buy in any health food store, or in this case in a T-shirt shop, that could kill you?

Ephedra, a chemical cousin to speed, is linked to heart attacks, strokes and seizures. But the FDA is mired in debate over whether to ban it. Classified as a food supplement and not a drug, more proof of harm is needed to pull it off the market. But proof is harder to get because supplement makers don't have to report adverse events.

So Peter's mother began a hometown crusade pushing for the first Ephedra ban in the nation in Suffolk County, New York. Legislator Jon Cooper took up the cause and found himself battling the powerful Ephedra industry.

"There was a massive, massive lobbying campaign against the bill, like nothing I have seen in my years in the legislature," Cooper says.

The Ephedra industry says there's no chance the ban will pass.

"The clinical data show that the product works and helps people with weight loss, and it is safe if you take it as directed. So there's really no need for a ban," an industry spokesperson said.

But the odds may have shifted toward the ban after a new study found Ephedra is dangerous even in recommended doses. The industry disputes the study, saying some of the authors are Ephedra critics. A vote on the ban could come tomorrow.

It could be argued that a ban of Ephedra in one county in all of America would not amount to much. But Suffolk County, New York has a reputation for being a trendsetter. It passed the first car cellular phone ban and the first bottle recycling law. Now, Ephedra critics hope it will also lead to a national ban of Ephedra.
  • Sue Chan

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