A year and half ago, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, sponsored a hearing on the safety of dietary supplements where he warned about the dangers of ephedra and other dietary supplements. As a result of that hearing Ortiz sponsored several bills regulating supplements - including a bill to ban the sale of ephedra in New York State. This week the Assembly approved his resolution calling on Congress and the President to ban these products nationwide.
The resolution noted that according to FDA records as many as 81 deaths, 32 heart attacks, 62 reports of cardiac arrhythmia, 91 reports of hypertension, 69 strokes and 70 seizures over the last 10 years were linked to the use of supplements containing ephedra.
"I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of another young athlete, Steve Bechler of the Baltimore Orioles, who was using a product containing ephedra. How many more young people must lose their lives before Congress will act?" said Ortiz.
Nearly 160 million Americans spend over $17 billion each year on dietary supplements that some critics believe can be unsafe, ineffective and mislabeled. In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), which allowed the sale of supplements without pre-market reviews and permitted health claims on labels with 30 day's notice to the FDA. Recent news reports about the death of athletes using certain supplements have again led to calls for stricter government control over supplement sales and promotional activities by the industry.
According to Ortiz, "Just because a supplement may be derived from a natural source, does not mean it is somehow safer or needs less regulatory oversight. Plants and herbs and their ingredients can be very dangerous. The National Football League has prohibited its players from using or endorsing any supplements containing ephedra or the ingredient ephedrine and the U.S. Army has banned the sale of such products in its commissaries. Many physicians and consumer groups have called for a ban on sales. These supplements are still legally available while similar drugs are restricted. We need to protect our children at school and at the gym, and our government agencies need the legal authority and the resources to properly oversee the safety and quality of products and prevent fraud and abuse in the supplement marketplace."
In response to these concerns, Assemblyman Ortiz introduced four bills to regulate supplements in New York State. The first bill, A. 6453, would ban sales of ephedra in New York State. A. 2799 would prohibit coaches and other school employees from selling or promoting the use of dietary supplements and requires schools to distribute warnings to students about risks from certain supplements. A. 2762 would require that marketers of dietary supplements be able to substantiate the claims for their products, and provide a warning statement and contact information for the FDA if the product claim is not approved by the FDA and, A. 2700, would classify dietary supplements that function similar to anabolic steroids as controlled substances. In addition, Ortiz co-sponsors A. 870 to prohibit the sale, to minors, of supplements containing ephedra.
The Assembly resolution calls upon Congress to ban the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra or similar substances and to revisit the DSHEA to provide more authority for the FDA to review and remove other dangerous supplements in the future.