Ephedrine Diet Pills Soon to be Banned

Ephedrine-based diet pills will soon be banned from over-the-counter sales starting on March 1, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration or FDA. California already banned the pills on January 1 and the state of New York made them illegal last November. The FDA's decision makes the ban nationwide. It's about time since in the last ten years, the FDA has received reports of 150 deaths and 16,000 complaints associated with the use of the stimulant diet pills.

The most famous death was that of 23-year-old Baltimore Oriole baseball pitcher Steve Bechler in February last year though there was also the highly publicized death of Anne Marie Capati who died while working out in a New York City gym a few years ago. But there's nothing quite like the death of a celebrity to stir up a hornet's nest.

Bechler's death drove home the point that ephedrine diet pills can be lethal. His father testified before the U.S. Congress in July beseeching the lawmakers to make the pills illegal and "not let my son die in vain".

A good question to ask is why the FDA took so long to take action. Well, it's not the FDA's fault. A 1994 law that was passed by Congress effectively tied their hands. The "Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act" states that makers of dietary and herbal supplements do not have to prove their products work or are safe to be able to sell them unlike over-the-counter and prescription drugs, which have to undergo a stringent process before they can be sold.

Dietary supplement manufacturers are also not required to report to the government any complaints or deaths due to their products. So the FDA has had to rely on the reports of doctors and consumers, which is only the tip of the iceberg since the FDA suspects that these voluntary reports account for only 1% of what is actually happening.

It took ten years for the FDA to gather enough evidence to convince the courts to institute the ban. Sadly, Bechler's death was probably the catalyst that the FDA needed to get ephedrine diet pills banned. Supplement manufacturers can still appeal the FDA decision. If they win, the ball will be back in Congress's lap.

According to The Arizona Star, a bill has been sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin that would require manufacturers of stimulants like ephedrine to provide evidence of the product's safety before it can be sold. As to be expected, supplement manufacturers are not taking it sitting down. Durbin was quoted as saying, "The supplement industry is a multibillion-dollar operation with an army of lobbyists, friends in the highest places in Washington and attack dogs straining at the leash."

Perhaps anticipating the fallout after Bechler's death, some supplement stores voluntarily took ephedrine-based diet pills off the shelves months ago. But just because ephedrine won't be available legally doesn't mean they can't be bought elsewhere like on the black market and over the Internet. For example, Bangkok pills can still be illegally bought here in the Philippines. I'm sure the same thing will happen with ephedrine. It will just go underground.

So, since it will still be a "buyer beware" market, here's what you need to know about ephedrine diet pills to protect your health.

If in spite of all these warnings, you still decide to take illegally bought ephedrine diet pills, then, at least try to follow these guidelines:

Aside from the fact that ephedrine will most likely be available in the black market, taking ephedrine off the market may not make it that much safer for consumers since manufacturers are already selling "ephedra-free" diet pills, which may also have adverse side effects. Next week, let's take a closer look at these products.

Update: On April 14, 2005, the ban on ephedra products was lifted. Federal Judge Tena Campbell ruled that if the FDA wants to continue the ban, it will have to prove that products containing ephedra are dangerous at the doses recommended by manufacturers.

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