No Diet Pills for You


A New York Times story about doctors who sell weight loss aids containing the herbal stimulant ephedra illustrates how the news media help discredit drugs that have fallen out of favor with the government. The fifth paragraph of the article warns:

Ephedra, especially in combination with caffeine, has been linked to scores of deaths, including that of Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old minor league baseball player who collapsed while training with the Baltimore Orioles in February.

Later the Times tells us that several athletic organizations prohibit the use of ephedra products, the American Medical Association wants them taken off the market, and the Food and Drug Administration is contemplating a ban. Not until the 29th paragraph do we learn that the "scores of deaths" mentioned early in the story—"117 reports of deaths among ephedra users," to be exact—cover a period of 10 years. In the next paragraph, the Times concedes:

Despite these statistics, no direct causal link has yet been established between the problems and ephedra use.

In fact, a RAND Corporation study commissioned by the FDA found only two fatalities where the presence of ephedra was confirmed and there was some effort to rule out alternative causes. The government has not made even a prima facie case that ephedra is more dangerous than other drugs available without a prescription, several of which are associated with far more deaths each year. But putting deaths "linked" to ephedra into perspective would have undermined the story line of greedy doctors recklessly jeopardizing their patients' lives and contradicted the new establishment line that ephedra use is too hazardous to be tolerated.


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  1. In the past year I dropped 45 unwanted pounds and now look and feel terrific, if I do say so myself. I did it with exercise, a law fat diet and ephedra. I continue to take that substance about five days a week, since I still want to drop another 8 lbs or so. (I went off of it totally for a month or so, just to be sure I was not in danger of addiction/habituation.)

    Before I began taking the ephedra I researched it. What I found was that altho a handful of deaths have been associated with its use, virtually all of these were in people taking 150 mgs or more a day: I take 25.

    With bemusement I have watched the media report the steady anti-ephedra drumbeat from alarmists in and out of government — which will almost certainly result in removing from me and all Americans the choice to use this drug. It *is my body, isn’t it? Sure it is, unless I want to inhale a bit of weed or, soon enough, swallow some ephedra. Then the state exercises the incidents of ownership over my person.

  2. Abortion is still legal. I guess the law says you just can’t ADD something to your body. Removal, A-OK.

  3. The sad part – well, one of the sad parts – is that no amount of truth is likely to help now; once the Drug Warriors have started talking something up, they can’t afford to back down. Admitting that maybe ephedra doesn’t kick puppies and steal from orphanages, at this point, would cast their other claims into doubt. History suggests that they’ll win this round too.

  4. China has been using ephedra “Ma Huang” for about the last 2000 years. As far as I know it has never been regulated or banned by the Chinese government. I thought that China was still a communist nation? I also thought that the U.S.A was still a capitalist democracy? Guess I’m just a lofty idealist.

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