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April 17, 2003

Public Citizen Cites Military Study of Heat-Related Injuries at California Military Base to Underscore Dangers of Ephedra

In Separate Science Magazine Article, Public Citizen Calls on FDA to Fulfill its Legal Mandate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although just a small percentage of Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., reported using the herbal supplement ephedra daily during 2000, half the heat-related injuries reported that year were among the Marines who had used ephedra, according to an unpublished study.

This strongly confirms that serious health risks are associated with ephedra use, Public Citizen said today.

A summary of the study, posted on a military Web site, was based on a survey and medical data from the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif. It found that although 7 percent of Marines reported daily use of ephedrine dietary supplements during the year 2000, "half of all [Marines with] heat related injuries in 2000 in 1MARDIV (First Marine Division) had used ephedra."

The information also documented specific cases of ephedra-related injuries in military personnel, including a death from Cybertrim (a supplement containing ephedra) at Marine Corps Logistic Base in Barstow, Calif., and a cerebral hemorrhage in an active duty person at Point Loma Naval Submarine Base in San Diego. That person was using Ultimate Orange, another ephedra supplement.

Military personnel could not be reached to obtain further information about the study. Previous reports indicate that there have been about 30 deaths of active duty military personnel who were using ephedrine dietary supplement products.

Public Citizen is publicizing the Camp Pendleton information the same week as the publication of an article by Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, about ephedra in the April 18 edition of Science magazine. In the article, "Ephedra: Scientific Evidence Versus Money/Politics," Wolfe traces the history of injuries and deaths linked to ephedra and the influence of money and politics on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) refusal to ban it. He noted that although some manufacturers are no longer selling supplements containing ephedra, the government should not rely on the marketplace to protect the public’s health.

"Regulation is now coming from the marketplace, operating in the vacuum created by FDA inaction," Wolfe wrote. "This is not an acceptable way to safeguard public health, and product labeling is not enough. We call on the FDA . . . to stop the occurrence of further preventable deaths and injuries by banning ephedra products."

Data show that products containing ephedra increase the risk of hypertension, stroke, heart attacks, arrhythmia and seizures. More than 100 deaths in the United States have been linked to ephedra. Most recently, the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler focused public attention on the dangerous supplement ingredient yet again.

Because of these serious problems, Public Citizen in 2001 petitioned the FDA to ban ephedra. While a number of manufacturers have announced they will stop selling supplements containing ephedra, the government has yet to act.

"It would appear that the FDA is part of the ‘Ephedra Industry Survival Service,’ not part of the public health service, Wolfe said. "The government is talking about putting warning labels on ephedra products, but that is not enough. These products can kill, and they shouldn’t be on the shelves."

Click here to view information about the 2000 Camp Pendleton study.

Both the Army and the Air Force have stopped selling ephedra products in their commissaries. The National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee have prohibited the use of ephedra among athletes.

To obtain an advance copy of the Science magazine article, contact Public Citizen.

To read a chronology of ephedra – including a new citation to a Web site promoting ephedra use to military personnel – click here.

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