Toxic Torts

Ephedra Lawsuits

What is Ephedra?

Ephedra sinica, or Ma huang in Chinese, is an evergreen shrub native to Asia. Its principal active ingredient, ephedrine, is an amphetamine-like compound. When synthesized in a laboratory, ephedrine is a drug regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), used to treat asthma, nasal congestion, and minor eye irritation.

Ephedra in its "natural" form is usually marketed as an ingredient in dietary supplements. Like drugs, dietary supplements are subject to FDA regulation. Many people have taken dietary supplements containing ephedra to help them lose weight, increase their energy, and enhance their athletic performance.

What are the Risks of Taking Ephedra?

Unfortunately, FDA scrutiny has revealed that, at best, ephedra, when taken with caffeine, is effective for short-term weight loss only. It has no appreciable effect on athletic performance. At the same time, it raises blood pressure and constricts blood vessels - health effects that have been definitively linked to an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Other health effects linked to ephedra use include:

  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Paranoid psychosis
  • Depression
  • Coma
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

At least 100 people have died from taking ephedra, including 23-year-old Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler who died of ephedra toxicity in 2003 during spring training.

Why Did the FDA Ban Ephedra?

As a result of more than 16,000 documented adverse effects, including heart palpitations, tremors, and insomnia, the FDA determined that ephedra posed an unreasonable risk to those who used it and banned the use of ephedra-containing products on April 12, 2004. The FDA found that the modest, short-term weight loss attributable to ephedra-containing dietary supplements did not outweigh the significant cardiovascular risks. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) research supported the FDA's findings, which indicated a greater number of adverse reactions to ephedra relative to other herbal products.

The ephedra ban included ephedra-containing dietary supplements, but excluded drug products containing the synthetic form of ephedrine, as well as traditional Chinese herbal remedies.

What is the Current Status of the Ephedra Ban?

Manufacturers of ephedra-containing products subsequently challenged the FDA ban in court. In April 2005, a federal judge in the Central District of Utah struck down the ban. The decision, Nutraceutical Corp. & Solaray, Inc. v. Crawford, lifted the ban on products containing 10 milligrams or less of ephedra, at least in the Central District of Utah, and sent the issue back to the FDA to determine safe levels - if any - of ephedra use. The FDA will certainly appeal the decision to the Tenth Circuit, and there is no guarantee that the district court's ruling will be upheld.

What about Ephedra Lawsuits?

Meanwhile, the manufacturers and sellers of ephredra-containing supplements face billions of dollars' worth of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits by former ephedra users and/or their family members.

  • In 2003, a California judge ordered an ephedra manufacturer to pay $12.5 million to consumers who took the company's ephedra-containing weight-loss supplement.
  • Steve Belcher's widow filed a $600 million lawsuit against the maker of the ephedra-based supplement implicated in her husband's death.
  • In 2004, a Texas jury awarded a woman $7.4 million against another ephedra seller after she suffered brain damage from a stroke after taking an ephedra weight-loss product.

Typical issues in ephedra lawsuits include claims regarding the manufacturers' and/or sellers' misstatements and overstatements regarding the safety and efficacy of their products.

In addition to private consumer lawsuits, the FDA can still bring ephedra lawsuits against manufacturers or retailers selling ephedra products in any federal district except the Central District of Utah.

Who Can File an Ephedra Lawsuit?

If you or a close family member have suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other adverse reaction after taking an ephedra product, you may be able to file an ephedra lawsuit.

How Do I File an Ephedra Claim?

If you want to file a lawsuit, you should find a toxic tort lawyer as soon as possible. Each state has a time limit, called a statute of limitations, restricting how long you have to file your ephedra claim. The time limit varies from state to state. But if you wait too long, you will be barred from taking legal action.

When choosing a lawyer, you should look for someone who has experience dealing with ephedra lawsuits. You'll want a lawyer with proven experience in the field, someone who has the resources and contacts to deal with your case quickly and efficiently.

An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you about your options, including whether you should file an individual lawsuit or opt for a class action. Your lawyer may be able to advise you about your chances of success and give you an idea of how much compensation you can reasonably hope to recover.

Once you have selected a lawyer, you will need to provide information regarding:

  • Which ephedra-containing product(s) you took; how much and how often
  • What type of ephedra-related injury you suffered, when the injury occurred, and whether you were taking an ephedra product at the time

The more information you provide your lawyer, the better chance he or she will have of preparing a solid case for you. As your case develops, your lawyer will be able to advise you about accepting an out-of-court settlement, if one is offered, or if you should go to trial.

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