Springfield State Journal Register

October 4, 2002

Durbin wants sales of dietary aid to end 
Supplement with ephedra linked to Lincoln teen's death 


WASHINGTON - Sen. Dick Durbin Thursday asked federal regulators to stop the sales of a dietary supplement containing the herbal stimulant ephedra that has been linked to the sudden death of a Lincoln teen.

The Springfield Democrat also has invited the boy's parents to a hearing next week on the dangers of such dietary aids.

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Durbin asked that the product, Yellow Jacket, made by the New Jersey firm NVE Pharmaceuticals, be pulled from the shelves.

"We know that last month a 16-year-old from Logan County died after taking such a drug. What we don't know is how many other young people in this country have died or are at risk because of these products," Durbin said.

The Food and Drug Administration "needs to act now before we have to bury another child," he added.

A 1994 federal law exempts dietary supplements from pre-market safety testing required for prescription drugs. The FDA can only ban sales if it can prove a product is unsafe.

Durbin contends the government has the authority to pull the product because it's marketed as an alternative to street drugs. Yellow Jacket also is the street name for barbiturates.

There was no immediate response from the FDA.

On Sept. 3, Sean Riggins, a high school football player from Lincoln, died of heart failure after consuming Yellow Jacket. The Logan County coroner said his death was related to use of the product, which is widely available at gas stations and other retailers for less than $2 for three pills. The package states: "Sales to minors illegal."

In addition to ephedra, the pills contain caffeine.

NVE Pharmaceuticals also markets another product called Black Beauty, the street name for amphetamines, Durbin said. Both products are advertised over the Internet.

At a July hearing on ephedra, Durbin criticized the Bush administration for not moving more quickly to protect millions of Americans who each year spend about $17 billion on potentially dangerous dietary supplements.

The Bush administration in June angered medical and consumer groups by delaying action on ephedra and calling for a new safety review by Rand Corp. due out this fall.

Canada last year warned consumers not to use ephedra. After several football players' deaths, the National Football League joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee in banning its use.

In January, the American Medical Association called on the FDA to remove dietary supplements containing ephedrine-alkaloids from the market, saying they've been linked to heart problems, high blood pressure and death.

Ephedra industry officials contend the product is safe if used as their voluntary labeling directs.