It was a hot, humid day in Fort Lauderdale last February when Steve Bechler, a pitching prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, collapsed and later died of complications stemming from heatstroke. Despite reports that Bechler suffered from a host of health problems, some are blaming the death on his use of ephedrine, and using it as justification to regulate herbal stimulants.
Some of the details surrounding Steve Bechler's death remain unclear, but what is known is that during a particularly intense spring training workout his body temperature rose to 108 degrees. He died less than 24 hours later from multiple organ failure.
When, the day after Bechler's death, the Broward County medical examiner announced to the media that Bechler's use of ephedrine had contributed to the pitcher's demise, he was basing his conclusion not on the results of blood tests or a thorough autopsy, but merely gleaning the "facts" of the case from a series of interviews conducted with Bechler's family and teammates. The examiner wasn't happy merely blaming ephedrine for the death of the 23-year-old rising star, but spent much of his press conference telling the press that ephedrine was unsafe and should be banned.
Today, Bechler's mother testified before Congress. Close to tears, she proclaimed "We need to get this off the market." Rep Billy Tauzin, R-Louisiana, was one of the congressman pushing for this new restriction on herbal ephedrine, which is commonly used in weight-loss preparations, pep pills, and decongestants. Tauzin wants to start with a warning label on ephedra-containing products, but it's easy to see this issue snowballing into a full ban on ephedra products.
Deaths from ephedra are very rare. Researchers who have pored through the adverse reaction reports have found less than a dozen deaths where ephedra was the only extenuating circumstance. According to reports, Bechler was taking three ephedrine-containing pills every morning. Tests conducted by the staff of the Pigdog Journal confirmed that dosages of more than three times that amount daily produced no long-term ill effects in the test subjects. So what happened to Bechler?
Perhaps it wasn't the ephedra at all. The medical examiner also reported that Bechler had a history of high blood pressure and undiagnosed liver abnormalities. In addition, the 6'2", 245-pound Bechler had been on a crash diet and had not consumed much solid food in two days. It is not known how these other factors may have contributed, and we will never really know what killed Steve Bechler.
Unfortunately, Bechler's death, whether or not it was caused by ephedra, may be just the thing that conservatives need to add ephedra to a growing list of fun, useful, illegal drugs.
If you're one of the estimated 14 million Americans who love ephedrine, you might just want to stock up.