Pubdate: Fri, 16 May 2003
Source: State Journal-Register (IL)
Copyright: 2003 The State Journal-Register
Author: Rich Frederick


Lincoln Couple Pushed For Bill After Son Died

Legislation prohibiting the sale of dietary supplements containing the
herbal stimulant ephedra passed the General Assembly late Thursday, paving
the way for Illinois to become the first state in the nation to institute an
outright ban.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pledged to quickly sign Senate Bill 1418, which
passed the House, 117-0. The Senate passed the bill 56-0 in March.

Ephedra-based products have been blamed for dozens of deaths, including that
of 16-year-old Lincoln Community High School football player Sean Riggins,
who took it along with caffeinated soda, believing his athletic performance
would be enhanced.

Ephedra has been blamed for 117 deaths and 18,000 reports of adverse
effects, including seizures, heart attacks and strokes. It is extracted from
the Chinese herb Ma Huang and stimulates the body's metabolic rate by
increasing the heart rate and constricting blood vessels.

Ephedra products are marketed as weight-control supplements and are sold
everywhere from gas stations to discount superstores. They account for more
than $1 billion in worldwide sales annually.

Under the legislation, any retailer or person caught selling ephedra would
be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail
and a $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders would be charged with a Class 3 felony,
punishable by up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The legislation applies only to dietary supplements containing ephedra. It
does not affect other products that contain the herb, such as cold

Illinoisans would still be able to possess ephedra, purchasing it on the
Internet or buying it in neighboring states.

Passage of the bill marks the culmination of a one-man lobbying blitz by
Sean's father, Kevin Riggins. Since Sean's death, Riggins has devoted his
life to getting ephedra supplements off store shelves, taking time off his
job to lobby legislators, testify in committees and speak to high school
students about the dangers of ephedra. Sean died Sept. 3 of massive heart
failure after taking an undetermined number of Yellow Jackets, an ephedra-
and caffeine-based pill that he had bought at a Lincoln convenience store.
His friends said he took the pills to gain energy for a football game.

House members on Thursday applauded Kevin Riggins and his wife, Debbie,
during the debate and after the vote for their persistence in pushing the

"The Rigginses are an army unto themselves in trying to send a message to
people in the state of Illinois that if we put products on the shelves, the
public believes they're safe. This is not the case with ephedra," said House
sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago.

After the vote, an emotional Kevin Riggins hugged his wife and tried to
fight back tears. "It's great. I can't even find the words for it right
now," he said.

Opposition to the bill was virtually non-existent. Several companies that
manufacture ephedra products sent lobbyists to Springfield, but Rep. Bob
Biggins, R-Elmhurst, said they were "realistic" and could "read the writing
on the wall."

Jan Strode, spokeswoman for the dietary supplement Metabolife, said that her
company supports legislation in other states prohibiting ephedra sales to
minors, but that an outright ban is shortsighted because studies show there
are no serious adverse effects if it is taken correctly.

"Adult Americans in Illinois will now be deprived of their freedom to make
an educated choice in using ephedra products for safe and effective weight
control," Strode said.

Ephedra was placed in the national spotlight after the death of Baltimore
Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in February. The 23-year-old died of heat
stroke after taking three ephedra capsules before a spring training game in

After Bechler's death, the Federal Drug Administration studied whether a
nationwide ban is necessary and continues to do so. In February, the agency
recommended stronger warning labels for ephedra products. Feigenholtz said
the legislation should be a wake-up call for a federal ban of ephedra.

"This landmark legislation sends a strong message to the FDA and (Health and
Human Services Secretary) Tommy Thompson, two entities dragging their feet
on banning this product that is essentially legal speed," Feigenholtz said.
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