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Oregon sues GNC over ingredients in dietary supplements

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has filed a lawsuit against GNC, accusing the retailer of selling dietary and nutritional supplements that contain ingredients not approved for sale in the U.S.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Portland zeroes in on two ingredients: picamilon and BMPEA.

Picamilon is a synthetic chemical used as a prescription drug in some countries to treat neurological conditions. BMPEA is an amphetamine-like stimulant which the World Anti-Doping Agency has banned for use by athletes.

The complaint alleges that GNC sold products labeled as containing botanical Acacia rigidula that in fact had been spiked with BMPEA, not mentioned on the label.

"It is scary to know that certain products sold by GNC contain an ingredient that is not even labeled -- let alone approved in the United States," Rosenblum said in a statement. "When Oregonians buy a dietary supplement, they deserve to know that the ingredients in the products are safe and comply with the law."

GNC spokeswoman Laura Brophy said GNC does not comment on pending litigation.

However, the company later posted a statement on its website refuting Rosenblum's claims, calling them "without merit" and vowing a vigorous defense.

Shares of GNC fell 14 percent to $34.50 on Thursday.

In response to FDA statements regarding the regulatory status of BMPEA and picamilon, GNC promptly took action to remove from sale all products containing those ingredients."

Another national retailer, Vitamin Shoppe, reached an agreement with Rosenblum earlier this year in which it agreed to stop selling products that contain BMPEA.

Last spring, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued letters warning five companies to stop selling products containing BMPEA, stating that the stimulant does not meet the definition of a dietary ingredient. The warning came after a Harvard Medical School study found nearly a dozen weight-loss and performance supplements contain BMPEA but disguise it under the plant extract Acacia rigidula.

In one case, documented in the Annals of Internal Medicine in May, a woman died of hemorrhagic stroke after taking a workout supplement containing a high dose of BMPEA.

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