Pubdate: Fri, 18 Oct 2002
Source: News Leader, The (VA)
Copyright: 2002 News Leader
Author:  Brad Zinn


Speed Alternatives Thriving In Stores

Decades ago, if somebody went looking for speed -- a powerful stimulant 
drug used to boost energy and alertness -- most likely they were trying to 
illegally acquire amphetamines. Known as "Black Beauties" or "Yellow 
Jackets" on the street, speed was popular with college students, truck 
drivers, athletes, the overweight and drug abusers.

The 1964 Drugs Act made amphetamine possession illegal without a 
prescription, but the drug's popularity persisted. These days, many 
convenience stores carry knockoffs of the once-popular speed tablets, 
stocking their shelves with herbal pills with names like -- you guessed it 
- -- "Yellow Jacket" and "Black Beauty."

The packaged capsules usually are prominently displayed at the checkout 
counter and make claims such as "extreme energizer," "wild energy" or "more 

Most are laced with ephedra, an herb the Food and Drug Administration says 
is derived from a botanical source of ephedrine. And when ephedra is mixed 
with kola nut extract for its caffeine -- common among many products that 
contain ephedra -- the results can sometimes be deadly. The FDA associates 
the stimulant with at least 81 deaths and 1,400 cases of heart attack, 
stroke and high blood pressure.

"It's like taking amphetamines," said FDA Spokesperson Laura Bradbard. 
"Kids have died taking these."

The herbal stimulant, though, remains legal in the United States.

The FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary 
supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally, manufacturers do 
not need to register with the FDA or get its approval before producing or 
selling dietary supplements, according to the FDA.

Most products that contain ephedra -- which is banned in the National 
Football League -- proudly advertise its effects, but as long as companies 
steer clear of making any type of false drug claims, the FDA is usually 
left standing on the sidelines.

"It's a very complicated issue," said Bradbard.

Recently, the Web site of a Dutch company asserted its "Yellow Jackets" 
could be used as herbal "XTC," also known as Ecstasy, a popular 
hallucinogenic drug that first gained a foothold among America's youth in 
the late 1980s and has risen in popularity ever since. Citing illegal 
marketing tactics, the FDA stepped in and sent a letter to the company 
explaining its stance.

"There does not appear to be any legitimate drug use for this product, and 
its sale as a substitute for controlled substances would be illegal," the 
FDA said in a statement issued last week. "FDA is aware that some street 
drug alternatives are being marketed as dietary supplements. FDA does not 
believe that street drug alternatives are intended to be used to supplement 
the diet. Accordingly, street drug alternatives do not meet the definition 
of a dietary supplement."

Two key ingredients of the Dutch company's pills are ephedra and kola nut 
extract. Those same ingredients also can be found in the "Stacker 2," a 
popular weight-loss pill promoted as "The World's Strongest Fat Burner." 
It's produced by NVE Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey company that will 
sponsor NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace beginning in 2003.

An ad running on the NVE Web site promoting another of its products, "Pure 
Ephedrine," touts that it's "available all the time and in unlimited 
quantities so you can have as much as you want, whenever you want it!"

Despite three phone messages left at NVE over a two-day period seeking 
comment about the safety of ephedra, company officials would not return calls.

Tim Dupree, owner of Staunton Raceway on Richmond Avenue, said the selling 
of ephedra-type products and caffeine tablets are "big business," and 
although he hasn't seen an increase in sales over the years, there has been 
a marked jump in varieties that are offered. Packs of ephedra products 
containing three capsules generally cost 99 cents, with bottles retailing 
for $7.99.

"There are people addicted to these things," Dupree said. "It's like legal 
speed, I guess."

Beverly Robinson, a substance abuse counselor for the Valley Community 
Services Board, said ephedra "is so accessible. A lot of folks don't think 
it's a big deal because it's legal."

Although most ephedra products are sold as dietary supplements, Robinson 
said many buy the product to get high.

"(Ephedra) is a drug. It gives them a feeling of well being," Robinson said.

On Oct. 8, the American Medical Association asked Congress to ban dietary 
supplements containing ephedra.

Dr. Ronald M. Davis, a trustee of the AMA, said, " ... because of ephedra's 
effects on the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, it may cause 
cardiac arrhythmia, heart attacks, strokes, seizures and sudden death in 
both previously healthy people, as well as in those with risk factors for 
these conditions."

But what to do with ephedra is a tough balancing act between Big Brother 
policing and responsibility, according to Fred Piercy, a professor and the 
Human Development department head at Virginia Tech.

"Sometimes it's not so clear," Piercy said. "You don't want 
over-regulation, but you don't want people to die either."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart