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Lives Depend on Ephedra
January 13, 2004
by K. Ann Barnett

Michael McClellan, FDA Chief and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson recently announced that they will order a ban on products containing the herbal stimulant, ephedra. Very soon it will be illegal to buy and use ephedra. The problem, they say from their "extensive studies" is that ephedra is too dangerous for public use.

According to the FDA, one hundred and fifty-five people may have died from taking ephedra. People are using (and misusing) ephedra for weight-reduction and the controlling agencies believe that it is not safe when used for that purpose. But it wasn't just the deaths that caused this alarm, they said. "It is the totality of the evidence" from the scientific studies that was used to make the decision, McClellan said.

Apparently, they don't have all the evidence yet that they need to make such a sweeping decision that affects so many lives.

To support the FDA's dubious actions, the authorities are using the grief from one family who lost a child, Baltimore Oriole Steve Bechler whose death in February has been blamed on ephedra.

I know all about losing children. I have lost two. I feel deeply for the family in their loss and I completely understand why they would want to protect others from that which took their son.

But I don't think the grieving family has all the evidence that they need either to support such an action. Ephedra has important uses besides weight-control. It is a natural treatment for allergic asthma, for instance. Asthma like mine.

I have severe allergic asthma that has not been helped by prescription drugs. A host of allergists in three states could not help me and with nothing else to offer, they advised me to move to the desert. Even in the desert, I have trouble breathing at times and there is only one herbal product on the market that helps me. It contains ephedra.

When I am in the throes of a severe asthma attack, I cannot breathe. If I don't have my herbal product to reverse the life-threatening symptoms, what will I do? Go to the emergency room at the local hospital? Forget for a moment the cost of a trip to the ER. It's already been proven that prescription drugs do not affect my particular type of asthma. So, in other words, I have little hope of recovering from the next major asthmatic attack because the cure -- the one that has worked for me for nearly a decade -- is being taken away.

Though my particular case is severe and should be considered in the decision to remove ephedra from the marketplace, there are probably thousands of people who need this herb for other medical conditions. It is just wrong to take this product off the market.

I don't think anyone would support the FDA's action if they had had all the evidence that they needed to make a right judgment on the herb. I want the FDA to continue to warn consumers about the potential dangers. That is the right thing to do. But don't take this product out of the marketplace. Lives like mine depend on it.

K. Ann Barnett is a longtime essayist, fiction writer, and First Reader for a publishing house. She can be contacted at kab@anv.net.

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