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-containing supplements to persons under 18. He now plans to introduce legislation to make the sale or possession of these products illegal for anyone in New York State and calls upon Congress to ban it completely to prevent further tragedies.
"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. That law was supported by millions of consumers who were concerned about restrictions on their ability to easily access their favorite supplements. However, 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. Many physicians and consumer groups have called for a ban on sales. Others are concerned about the use of supplements that mimic steroids. 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 three bills to regulate supplements in New York State. The first bill, A. 2799, prohibits 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. The second bill, 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. The third, 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.