- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

The diet supplement ephedra was partly to blame for the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler last month, a medical examiner said yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Dr. Joshua Perper said in a statement that there were "significant amounts" of ephedrine in Bechler's system when he died Feb.16, along with smaller quantities of two other stimulants, pseudoephedrine and caffeine.
The report now puts the onus on Major League Baseball and the players' union to decide whether ephedra-based supplements should be banned. Commissioner Bud Selig and union representatives had said they would wait for the toxicology results before considering any action. After Bechler's death, however, Selig banned minor league players from taking ephedra-based products.
Last week the players' association sent a memo to all teams reminding players of the risks associated with ephedra and recommending they not use supplements that include the stimulant.
"We remain prepared to discuss the issues raised by Mr. Bechler's tragic death with the Players Association," MLB said yesterday in a statement.
Ephedra already is tested for and banned by the NCAA, NFL and International Olympic Committee. In baseball, information on it is available to players, and they are told about the risks involved with taking ephedra and other supplements. Still, it is a legal substance and available over the counter in some cold medicines and dietary supplements.
Players interviewed in the days after Bechler's death acknowledged that because it is legal, ephedra would be difficult for the league to ban. In addition, the players' association allowed for drug testing as a part of the most recent collective bargaining agreement, but that involved only limited testing for steroids.
However, the confirmation that ephedra was a factor in Bechler's death could change things within the union. Soon after Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died in a training camp workout in 2001, the NFL Players' Association agreed to a ban on ephedra. The baseball union has the same opportunity in front of it now.
Although Perper made the news official yesterday, by the day after Bechler died, the medical examiner had deduced, through interviews with people aware of Bechler's habits, that the pitcher had been taking Xenadrine RFA-1, which includes ephedrine, a derivative of the ephedra plant. The amphetamine increases the heart rate and is marketed as a weight-reducing drug.
Cytodyne Technologies, manufacturer of the product Bechler had been using, has defended the product and cited his history of health issues slight hypertension, a liver abnormality, heart problems in his family and a history of problems with hot weather as elements that contributed to his death. Cytodyne and other defenders of ephedra contend that the drug was not the leading cause of Bechler's death.
"Health policy concerning ephedra should be based on scientific evidence," the Ephedra Education Council said yesterday in a statement. "The current science supports the safety and significant weight loss benefits of ephedra when it is used according to industry standards."
Bechler's widow, Kiley, who is expecting the couple's first child next month, has secured legal representation and plans to filed a product liability suit against Cytodyne. She was awarded a $450,000 life insurance premium by Major League Baseball's pension committee this week.

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