- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Baltimore Orioles players have reacted cautiously in assessing any possible action by Major League Baseball and the players association toward banning or limiting the use of ephedrine in supplements or other products.

The players' reaction came in the wake of pitcher Steve Bechler's death Monday, with indications pointing to an ephedrine-based weight reduction product as a factor in his death.

Several players said that even if ephedrine is found in Bechler's system when a toxicology report is returned in two to three weeks, they can't rationalize banning the legal substance if the general public can continue to purchase it. They also want to see further research and don't think there is enough information available to make a hard and fast decision.

"I think [banning it] is extreme," David Segui said. "I think it's extreme that the NFL can't use it. You can buy it at [General Nutrition Centers], a grocery store or a gas station. It's in Sudafed. There's millions of people who take it every day. … So to blame that I think is extreme. But it definitely should be looked into."

Segui and Jay Gibbons are among the Orioles who said they have tried ephedrine-based products. Segui said he stopped taking one because it made him shaky.

Gibbons said he took a supplement containing ephedrine before last season when he was trying to lose weight. Gibbons said he read the label carefully, the product helped him lose weight and he never had any problems. He said he doesn't take it now because he doesn't need to and probably won't take it again.

Other players said it's difficult to gauge how many players around the majors use ephedrine-based products because players typically worry just about what they're taking and not the guy next to him.

With a legal drug like ephedrine available over the counter, it is the responsibility of each player to know what he is putting into his body and to read the labels for any warnings.

Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County's chief medical examiner, said Xenadrine RFA-1, the supplement containing a derivative of ephedra that Bechler most likely took the days before he died, had warnings on the labels for people with hypertension or liver problems, both of which Bechler had.

"You definitely read labels more," Gibbons said. "I know I always did. Just look at what you're taking. You've got to be smart. You've got to know what you're taking. A lot of factors contributed to [Bechlers death]. Definitely, guys need to be more aware."

Wes Siegner, a spokesman for the Ephedra Education Council, said in a conference call yesterday that there are "over 55 clinical studies testify to the safety of ephedra. It is popular because it works and people need help losing weight."

On Capitol Hill, Rep. John Sweeney, a New York Republican, asked the Food and Drug Administration to halt all sales of ephedra products until Congress holds hearings, and Rep. Greg Walden, a Oregon Republican, called on Congress to investigate the safety of the dietary supplement.

Given that Bechler's death was found to have resulted from a number of factors, including borderline hypertension and a liver abnormality, players also spoke about needing to pay close attention to their own bodies and to be cognizant of inherited health problems.

Segui said the tragedy changed his view on his physical exam, which he had yesterday. Before, he wanted to hurry up and get it over with. Now he said, he's willing to exercise more patience.

Probably the most contentious discussion to come out of Bechler's death was how supplements, particularly those that contain ephedrine, should be regulated or not.

Furthermore, players can feel pressure to enhance their performance because they are fighting for roster spots and millions of dollars. Athletes take drugs that contain ephedrine to give themselves an energy boost that could make the difference between them and a competitor for a position.

"[Baseball] is not like a job where you can just get up and go," Segui said. "Your body has to function at a certain level to perform at this level every day. So there's days you need a little help. I'm not saying it's right or wrong.

"There's competition, competitiveness for jobs and since your livelihood depends on it, a lot of guys look into certain alternatives that may not be the safest things, the smartest things for them. But when those pressures mount and it's legal, it makes it easier to do those kind of things to give you that edge that gets you through the day."

Pitcher Rick Helling, a long time proponent of steroid testing, acknowledged Segui's argument but took a different tack: There are legal substances that can improve a player's performance, he acknowledged, but if they are potentially dangerous, they should be outlawed.

"A lot of times, some guys may feel the pressure they have to do certain things to try to make a team or do whatever," Helling said. "If that option isn't there, the chances of something bad happening because of it would be gone."

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