Ban Ephedra?

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, December 30, 2003, that was edited for clarity.

Watch Your World w/Cavuto weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

BRENDA BUTTNER, GUEST HOST: If you’re banking on diet drugs to slim down in 2004, start looking for alternatives.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announcing a ban today on ephedra. It’s the herbal supplement found in over 200 diet drugs sold over the counter.

My next guest has been urging this ban since she lost her son Kristopher to ephedra in 1997. He was 24. Barbara Michal joins me now from Los Angeles.


BUTTNER: Ma’am, thank you so much for joining us.

As a mother, I cannot even begin to understand the grief that you must have been through and gone through. But you share the personal story, your own personal tragedy in the hopes that others will not face Kristopher’s same fate?

MICHAL: Right. So that other parents won’t go through what I have been through, so other children will not grow up without their moms or their dads.

I’ve been very fortunate to be able to share my story and to work with the government and with the media and with attorneys across the country to try and effect this ban. This was a red-letter day for the consuming public.

BUTTNER: And congratulations to you, for all your efforts.

MICHAL: Thank you.

BUTTNER: Kristopher was 24. And why was he using ephedra?

MICHAL: Well, it was a synthetic ephedra product that killed Kris, not an herbal. But when I learned about the herbal products as well. He was using it as a stay awake aid, and it killed him.

And I started doing research, and I learned about the herbal products, as well, and the fact the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act handcuffed the FDA.

And the FDA has had a very difficult time fighting against the tremendous lobbyists of the herbal supplement industry. And this is what has taken so long, that the entire issue has not been about public health and safety; it’s been all about the money.

BUTTNER: Was he using the supplement according to the label, as far as you know?

MICHAL: He was not using an herbal supplement. It was a synthetic product. But, I’m really not sure whether he was using it according to the label or not. He may not have been.

There is another very dark dirty secret about ephedra and ephedrine, that no one wants you to know, and that’s that it’s addictive.

BUTTNER: And that is one of the reasons why you want it taken off the market, although government reports do not say that it’s addictive. They just say basically that it can kill people.

MICHAL: It can kill people. It is basically nothing more than legal speed. If you look at the chemical composition of the ephedra alkaloids, they are nothing more than legal speed.

BUTTNER: And you have now done your part to take that off the market. Is this enough? Is this too little, too late?

MICHAL: This is a tremendous first step. Is this enough? No. Senator Durbin, United States senator from Illinois, has a bill, Senate Bill 722 that is going to require the dietary supplement manufacturers to report adverse events to the FDA.

This needs to be done. The FDA fought so hard for so many years to get the stuff off the market, because the industry hid their adverse event reports.

BUTTNER: And as have you. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story. We appreciate it.

MICHAL: Thank you very much.

BUTTNER: Barbara Michal.

Well, the company my next guest runs stands to lose over a quarter of its business as a result of this ban.

Joining us on the phone from Florida is Jeff McCarrell. He is chief executive of Nutrex Research.

Sir, thanks for joining us.


BUTTNER: So you’re going to be out a lot of money?

MCCARRELL: Well, yes money. I don’t think money is the concern here, though. Our concern is, is this where the FDA is going to stop?

And the safety reports that have put out are not accurate. I think Mrs. Michal just stated that her son used a synthetic form, did not use an herbal form.

BUTTNER: But the FDA is banning the herbal form, and you say this isn’t about money?

MCCARRELL: Well, for us it’s not about money. I mean, this is...

BUTTNER: You’re about to lose a quarter of your business.

MCCARRELL: Well, yes. But we can replace it with an ephedra-free version. I mean, the fat-burning category is a large category, and, you know, 66 percent of our population is overweight.

BUTTNER: What do you say to Barbara, who lost her son?

MCCARRELL: Well, obviously, I say first off I’m sorry, you know. And we all feel for a loss of a child. But at the same time do you know that 7,500 people a year die from non-steroidal anti-inflamatories?

BUTTNER: Yes, but right now we’re talking about ephedra, and more than 100 deaths have been linked to this, according to the FDA. How can you go on manufacturing something that would do that?

MCCARRELL: Well, that’s 100 deaths over several years. And again, are these people using it responsibly? Are they following the label claim, or do they have a history of heart problems, or high blood pressure or even abuse of products like this?

BUTTNER: Are you afraid then, that the FDA is going to go too far, that this is only the first step and pretty soon they’ll take all sort of herbal stimulants off the market?

MCCARRELL: That’s exactly my concern. Not only that, but what about the other products?

I mean, ephedra gave the soccer mom an advantage, an alternative advantage to hard-core dieting. It does work. We have millions of people who use the product safe and effectively, you know?

The data that they’ve put out, the Rand Report is one that’s been stated. The average dosage for ephedra use daily was 20 milligrams. The Rand Report showed up at 160 milligrams at safety.

Well, come on, there is abuse in everything out there, but moderation in certain products used properly are very, very effective.

BUTTNER: Are you going to sue?

MCCARRELL: Well, you know, we’re going to get together with our ephedra coalition, and we’re going to regroup over the next few days. And we’ll decide soon what we’re going to do.

BUTTNER: That’s one of your options, though. That’s basically your only option?

MCCARRELL: Well, currently right now, it is, yes.

BUTTNER: And so you think that’s going to be your next line of defense here?

MCCARRELL: I think so. I mean, you know, our concern, again, is the FDA going to stop here?

You know, we’re not here to trade out products or this or that, but we wanted to protect our industry. And we feel like it’s a safe industry and regardless of what people say in the public, this industry has a lot of research and data behind it. That’s how we create these products: research and data.

BUTTNER: All right, sir. We appreciate very much your perspective. Jeff McCarrell.

MCCARRELL: Thank you.

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