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THE NATION

Young Athletes' Use of Stimulant Stirs Alarm

Health: Scholastic rules bar it, but ephedrine is popular, coaches say.

August 22, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN and MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Speier became acquainted with ephedrine three years ago while at a Southland shopping mall, where a kiosk offered the product as a weight-loss tool.

"I got suckered into it, like most people do," she said. "They're sold as nutritional power bars, attractive to young women who want to try to deal with their weight, young men who are trying to establish their athletic prowess and to adults who are constantly trying to fight the battle of the bulge.

"I took a couple pills, and my heart was beating fast. My mouth was dry. I was lightheaded. I thought, 'This is not right.' So I just stopped."

Manufacturers of ephedrine products face little federal oversight. Under a law passed by Congress in 1994, dietary supplement manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe, but the supplements do not require FDA approval before going on the market.

Some doctors have expressed concern about ephedrine.

"I counsel anybody who asks me that it's not wise or safe to take because of the potentially adverse reactions," said Ronald Navarro, chief of orthopedic surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Harbor City. "There are many documented cases of use and overuse by athletes resulting in injuries to themselves, including death."

Navarro said exceeding recommended dosages is a particular problem.

"They see this as an over-the-counter material and think it's like [powdered] chocolate milk--two scoops is better than one," he said.

Mike Mooney, football coach at Temple City High School, said he will try to persuade his players that they don't need supplements.

"I'll pull a label off whatever goofball supplement is being used," he said, "and show them that if they eat decent food in correct quantities, they're going to get the same stuff."

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Times staff writers Dan Arritt, Ben Bolch, Rob Fernas, Valerie Gutierrez, Gary Klein, John Ortega, Eric Sondheimer and Peter Yoon contributed to this story.

Join a discussion about high school athletes' use of dietary supplements containing ephedrine on The Times' Web site. Go to latimes.com/ephedrine

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