Bechler's widow says she will sue maker of ephedra supplement

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The widow of Steve Bechler plans to sue the manufacturer of a dietary supplement the Baltimore Orioles pitcher was believed to be taking before his death.

Bechler, 23, died Feb. 17 from heatstroke after collapsing during a workout at training camp. In his preliminary autopsy report, Broward County chief medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper linked Bechler's death to a diet supplement that contains ephedra.

A bottle of Xenadrine RFA-1, an over-the-counter weight-loss product containing ephedra, was found in Bechler's locker after he collapsed.

"The way we see it, Steve Bechler is dead, and ephedra is the primary cause of death," David Meiselman, the lawyer for Kiley Bechler, said Tuesday.

Perper plans to release the final toxicology report in about two weeks.

"We will wait for the toxicology report to come back, do our homework, then go hunting for the company that distributes this drug," Meiselman said. "This drug is a killer. Our real concern is to get this poison off the shelves."

Cytodyne Technologies of Manasquan, N.J., the supplement's manufacturer, said it was "reckless and irresponsible for an attorney to prematurely place blame or deflect responsibility to others for the events leading up to Mr. Bechler's death."

"It is clear that this attorney is making these statements without the benefit of any toxicology results," the company said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that this attorney was chosen to ignore the fact that Mr. Bechler had a number of serious medical conditions including liver disease, hypertension, an enlarged heart, and history of heat-related illnesses."

Meiselman said the company's stance was predictable.

"The arrogance of this company is beyond belief," he said. "It's never their fault, and in the meantime, people are dying. It's important to note that three days before his death, Steve Bechler passed a physical exam to play baseball."

Perper said Tuesday that Bechler was overweight, had borderline high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. The doctor also said that two years ago, Bechler was diagnosed with an abnormal liver, a finding confirmed during the autopsy. Perper also noted there was very little solid food in Bechler's digestive tract.

In its statement, Cytodyne said, "Xenadrine, which has been used by well over 20 million people in the U.S. alone, has a long history of safe use."

Bottles of Xenadrine RFA-1 contain a warning label saying the consumer should consult a doctor before using it "if you are at risk ... for heart disease, high blood pressure, recurrent headaches, liver, thyroid or psychiatric disease."

The Washington Post first reported Meiselman's intent to sue Cytodyne.

Baseball players' association head Donald Fehr said Tuesday in Surprise, Ariz., that players shouldn't be held to a different standard than the general public when it comes to ephedra use. The substance, which is available over the counter, is banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee.

"If it should be prohibited, then it should be prohibited in the population," he said. "You shouldn't hold a smaller percentage of the population to a higher standard. Maybe it's time for the FDA to be looking into this one, first. We haven't even got information back from the autopsy."

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, on Monday renewed its call for a ban on the use of ephedra. Consumers Union is asking the Food and Drug Administration and major league baseball to prohibit the use of ephedra.

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