State Journal-Register

November 07, 2003

Federal lawmakers urge ban on ephedra products

Byl DORI MEINERT 
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of lawmakers including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Thursday introduced a pair of House and Senate resolutions urging the Bush administration to ban the sale of dietary supplements containing the herbal stimulant ephedra.

Durbin said he hopes the non-binding resolutions can be passed this year to put more pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to take action.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reports of 16,500 adverse effects, including 155 deaths, from products containing ephedra. Its dangers have received national attention since the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in February. Ephedra also was linked to the death last year of high school football player Sean Riggins of Lincoln, Ill.

"So far, we have seen a singular unwillingness on the part of this administration to act to protect American consumers from this product," Durbin said at a Capitol news conference.

Illinois and New York ban the sales of ephedra products, while California, Florida and New Jersey ban the sales to minors.

Rep. James Greenwood, R-Penn., who chairs a House energy and commerce subcommittee that held hearings on ephedra in July, said he believed the Bush administration will ban ephedra, possibly this year. "Ephedra is not only snake oil, it's snake venom," Greenwood said.

A 1994 law passed by Congress puts the burden of proof on the government in restricting the sales of "dietary supplements." But Durbin and other critics have said that the law allows the HHS secretary to intervene when a product presents an "imminent danger" to public health.

Durbin said the FDA should ban the products "and then fight the lawyers."

At a Senate hearing last week, FDA officials said they needed time to examine 30,000 responses they received during a recent public comment period on whether to further regulate ephedra.

An FDA official Thursday said there is no deadline for the agency to complete its work.

Durbin said he added $250,000 to the fiscal 2004 agriculture appropriations bill to help speed the FDA's processing of those comments.

With Congress rushing to adjourn by Thanksgiving, it is unclear whether there's time for the resolutions to be passed by the House and the Senate.

Although Durbin and others have introduced bills that would place greater restrictions on ephedra products, Congress has been hesitant to pursue a ban, which is strongly opposed by the dietary supplement industry. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, this week co-sponsored Durbin's bill.