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Ephedra Maker Settles Lawsuits for $1M

The makers of a weight-loss product implicated in the death of a Baltimore Orioles pitcher will pay New Jersey nearly $1 million to settle claims that it exaggerated the benefits and understated the risks of some products.

The settlement announced by the state Monday involves Wall Township-based Nutraquest Inc. and three related companies that have agreed not to make unsubstantiated claims in advertising.

Nutraquest is a successor of Cytodyne Technologies, which made Xenadrine RFA-1 (search), an ephedra-based product found to have contributed to the February 2003 spring training death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler (search).

A medical examiner determined ephedra (search) contributed to the 23-year-old's heatstroke; his body temperature had reached 108 degrees.

The company says it stopped selling ephedra-based products in 2003 because they were no longer profitable.

In a written statement, the company said it settled the case "to avoid the uncertainty and cost of litigation." It claimed it had 10 clinical studies that proved the products were safe and effective when used as directed.

New Jersey sued the companies in 2003 over their marketing.

"They had targeted vulnerable consumers with false promises of dramatic weight loss with little to no effort," Attorney General Peter Harvey said. "The fact is, there is no miracle weight loss product."

Nutraquest filed for bankruptcy in October 2003, citing, among other things, lawsuits filed against it. Bechler's widow filed a $600 million wrongful death suit that is currently in mediation talks, attorneys said.