- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Two years after federal health officials wanted warning labels on ephedra, the Bush administration instead is ordering a start-from-scratch safety review of the herb that has been linked to dozens of deaths.
The move yesterday prompted outrage from consumer advocates and doctors who want ephedra banned, citing the dietary supplement's link to heart attacks and strokes.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced yesterday that instead of deciding that petition now, the government had hired Rand Corp. to review all scientific reports on ephedra's safety. Results are due this fall, when the National Institutes of Health will determine what additional research is needed.
"This is a black day in medicine," said Dr. Raymond Woosley, vice president of health sciences at the University of Arizona, who called the risk clear enough that further study would be unethical.
But supplement makers, including leading ephedra marketer Metabolife International, praised the decision.
"Clinical trials that have been done over the years show the products are safe," said Wes Seigner, attorney for the Ephedra Education Council.
Also yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration ordered six companies illegally selling synthetic ephedrine in the guise of an herb to stop. The synthetic form of ephedra has long been outlawed, and the FDA for years has sought to stop such sales, which occur mostly via the Internet.
The FDA ordered a seventh company to stop selling "energizing herbs," including high ephedra doses, as alternatives to LSD and cocaine. The Web site advertises "legal speed" and products that "felt like an acid trip," claims that FDA rules prohibit.
More controversial is the legal use of ephedra the actual herb, not chemical cousins for weight loss and bodybuilding.
An analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago said at least 54 deaths and about 1,000 reports of complications have been linked to the popular supplement since the mid-1990s. One theory is that the herb, especially when combined with caffeine or exercise, overstimulates the heart.
There now are 100 reported deaths, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen.
Federal law forbids most regulation of dietary supplements unless the FDA proves danger. Three years ago, citing death reports, the agency attempted to bar certain high ephedra doses. Industry protests killed the move, so officials instead began pushing for warning labels and then Public Citizen petitioned for a ban.


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