On February 17, 2003, Steve Bechler, a 23 year old pitcher for the
Baltimore Orioles, died following a spring training workout.
Investigators found a bottle of diet pills in Bechler's locker
containing ephedra. The substance, an ancient Chinese herb (ma huang)
is a powerful natural stimulant, and was found to have contributed to
Bechler's death due to heatstroke.
Since it was an herbal supplement, not a drug, ephedra was not
subject to pre-market testing or approval by the Food and Drug
Administration. However, well before Belcher’s death, ephedra had
captured the attention of doctors and authorities. It acts as an
adrenaline-like stimulant and can have dangerous effects on the heart.
It has been linked to high blood pressure, irregular heart beat,
tremors, nervousness, headaches, insomnia, and heart attacks.
In December 2003, the Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert
at the urging of the American Heart Association and others. Health and
Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "Consumers should stop
buying and using ephedra products right away, and FDA will make sure
consumers are protected by removing these products from the market as
soon as the rule becomes effective."
Ephedra products are sold as diet pills and workout pills under
numerous brand names such as Metabolife 356, Ripped Fuel, Ultimate
Orange and Hydroxycut. Ephedra is listed on product ingredient listings
in a variety of ways, including, among others, ephedra extract, ephedra
herb powder, ma huang, epitonin, ephedrine, Chinese ephedra, Mormon
tea, and herbal ecstasy.
Close to 100 lawsuits have been filed around the United States resulting in millions of dollars in settlements.
Ephedra continues to be marketed and sold in the United States.