33 Deaths Among Military Prompted Ephedra Ban; FDA Should Follow Suit

Memo Shows FDA Official Acknowledges Link Between Ephedra and Heart Problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ephedra-related deaths among active duty personnel in the Armed Forces have prompted the Army and Air Force military exchanges to pull ephedra products from military commissary shelves worldwide, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should follow suit, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told lawmakers today.

Wolfe also said that he has obtained a 2000 memo from FDA official Janet Woodcock in which she concluded that there is “very strong evidence in support of a causal relationship” between supplements containing ephedra and life-threatening cardiovascular and central nervous system problems.

In testimony delivered to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on government management, Wolfe explained that ephedra – which is in supplements touted for weight loss and body building – has been linked to hypertension, strokes, heart attacks and seizures. Wolfe has deemed these the most lethal of all dietary supplements. Public Citizen last year petitioned for the FDA to ban the production and sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra. (Canada did so in January.) Click here to view a copy of Wolfe’s testimony.

“This is not and has never been a question of scientific or medical evidence,” Wolfe said. “It is a question of politics, and the extraordinarily dangerous political cowardice of the FDA and HHS Secretary [Tommy] Thompson in the face of massive lobbying by ephedra-makers in Washington.

Between 1997 and 2001, there were 30 deaths among active duty personnel in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines who were using ephedra, a military official told Wolfe in a recent phone conversation. Those who died were between their early 20s and early 40s and were in good health. Since then, there have been three more deaths associated with ephedra products among Army personnel. In July, Army and Air Force military exchanges and commissaries were told to stop selling ephedra products by August. The Marines issued a similar ban in February 2001.

“There is no doubt that these products will be banned in the United States,” Wolfe added. “The question is not whether, but when. Delaying tactics . . . are costing lives.”

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