DOJ Eyes Ephedra Product

Dietary Suplement, Herbal, Herb, Diet, Vitamins, Vitamin, Herbs, Pills, RKF CBS/AP

The FDA has been investigating the safety of ephedra for years. A chemical cousin to speed, it's used to boost energy, build muscle or lose weight. One of the most popular ephedra products is Metabolife.

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that the makers of Metabolife today told the government that 13,000 customers called the company with health complaints over the last five years, but insists that's not much considering they sold 50 million bottles. They say only 80 of the callers mention the primary concerns of the FDA: seizure, heart attack, stroke and death.

The center of a new conflict is a statement made by the head of Metabolife in 1998. Michael Ellis told the FDA: "Metabolife has never received one notice from a consumer that any serious adverse health event has occurred" with its product.

The Justice Department says it now has information Metabolife did know about serious injuries. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, the Justice Department recently told the FDA that "(Ellis) may have committed a federal crime" by making a false statement. The DOJ offered to open a criminal investigation.

Metabolife responds that "Michael Ellis has not made any false statements to the FDA." The company says critics are trying to "divert attention from the scientific data" showing Ephedra is safe and effective.

Metabolife is named in dozens of lawsuits like the one filed by 33-year-old Rhea McAllister, who says it caused her stroke.

Says McAllister: "It's a bomb just ticking, it's a time bomb and it's going to blow up sooner or later."

On Thursday, the FDA asked the Justice Department for a criminal investigation of the largest seller of dietary supplment ephedra and to investigate the statements by Metabolife's president.
  • Sue Chan

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