- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

Online retailers are reporting a run on ephedra products as consumers make last-minute purchases of the dietary supplement that the federal government plans to ban.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it will ban ephedra in March. The agency urged consumers to stop taking the herbal ingredient, which has been linked to 155 deaths in the United States.

Authorities said ephedra contributed to the heatstroke death in February of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who collapsed during spring training.

A sales representative at Dps Nutrition Inc., a Taylor, Pa., online supplement store, said ephedra products such as Extreme Ripped Force, ECA Stack and Diet Fuel have been dominating sales this week.

“We’re seeing a record number of sales for ephedra products,” the sales representative said, refusing to disclose her name.

Bodybuilding.com, a Boise, Idaho, online supplement retailer, posted about 2,000 orders for ephedra products on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported. That one-day sale doubled the company’s previous record.

Metabolife’s original 356 formula, a weight-loss supplement with ephedra, was selling on EBay yesterday for $60 to $100 per 104-capsule bottle. Its ephedra-free counterpart was selling for $5 to $16 per 90-capsule bottle.

Metabolife International Inc., a San Diego weight-loss supplement manufacturer, stopped selling its ephedra products to major retailers in midsummer and ceased all ephedra production and sales in November to comply with California laws.

But spokeswoman Jan Strode said the company sticks by its statements that “ephedra is safe and effective when taken as directed on our product label.”

Miss Strode said the company received a high volume of calls from Nov. 17 to Christmas from consumers wanting to buy the original Metabolife products.

Online retailers might be the last place for consumers to shop because major pharmacies, such as Walgreen Co., CVS Corp. and Eckerd Corp., have pulled ephedra products from their shelves.

General Nutrition Centers Inc., a Pittsburgh chain of 5,000 supplement stores, is receiving few requests for ephedra after the company stopped selling the ingredient in June, said spokeswoman Jaime Young.

“We put out a big announcement on this, so we aren’t seeing many people coming into our stores and asking for it,” she said.

Still, consumers are stocking up on ephedra products at some smaller nutrition-supplement stores.

Russell Wood, owner of Fit 4 Less in Overland Park, Kan., said one woman wanted to buy two cases of an ephedra product, with 24 bottles each, after the ban was announced Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Wood said he normally sells 30 to 50 bottles per month.

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