Orioles Pitcher Dies, Ephedrine Named Culprit

March 3, 2003

3 Min Read
Orioles Pitcher Dies, Ephedrine Named Culprit

Orioles Pitcher Dies, Ephedrine Named Culprit

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.--Steve Bechler, a23-year-old prospective pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died ofmultiple-organ failure due to heatstroke Feb. 17, and ephedrine may have been acause, according to several media sources. However, Bechler also had a host ofmedical problems, according to the Broward County medical examiner, JoshuaPerper, M.D. In spite of this, most media outlets were quick to single outephedrine as a relevant factor in the pitcher's death.

Before autopsy results were released, outlets such as theAssociated Press (AP) and the Orioles' official Web site were quick to nameephedrine, a supplement "linked to heatstroke and heart attacks," as apossible factor in the death of Bechler, whose body temperature reached 108degrees at one point. This despite the fact that toxicology reports would not becompleted for two weeks.

According to a press release from Cytodyne Technologies (www.cytodyne.com),the medical examiner confirmed Bechler was taking Xenadrine RFA-1, anephedrine-containing supplement manufactured by the Manasquan, N.J.-basedcompany. While the medical examiner reported Bechler had been taking threecapsules once daily, the company noted the recommended dosage is two capsulestwice daily.

"Due to the lack of medical evidence available at thistime, Cytodyne is unable to specifically comment on the circumstancessurrounding the tragic death of Steve Bechler," according to a companystatement. "Until the toxicology report becomes available, the cause ofdeath remains unknown and may never be known. What is clear is that Xenadrinehas been the subject of numerous clinical trials on people, which haveconclusively demonstrated that the product is safe and effective when used asdirected."

Ephedra's possible involvement in Bechler's death has againcaused a stir regarding the regulation of the dietary supplement industry."The heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler has ...once again raised questions about baseball's lack of rules over dietarysupplements," according to a report by Glen Colbourn and Mark Zwolinski onWayMoreSports.com. The reporters noted that in light of the Orioles player'sdeath, the general manager of another baseball team--the Toronto Blue Jays--saidhe will warn players to drink plenty of fluids and to avoid "unregulatedsupplements." Colbourn and Zwolinski also stated, "Baseball shouldtake the NFL's [National Football League] lead and ban ephedrine, just as theNCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] also has done."

In the wake of Bechler's death, the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) has gotten involved in investigating whether ephedra was a factor,according to a report from the AP. Commissioner Mark McClellan told the APresearching the herb's safety, particularly its use in sports, is a highpriority, and will be a factor in whether to ban sales.

Aside from the possibility of ephedrine's involvement inBechler's death, the athlete was also reportedly overweight and out of shapewhen he arrived at spring training, where weather conditions were very hot andhumid. Orioles team manager, Mike Hargrove, told the Miami Herald (www.herald.com)that Bechler's athletic condition was "not good." Based on Bechler'sreportedly less-than-stellar athletic shape and the possibility that he wastaking an ephedrine-containing supplement, the Herald reporter wrote,"A problem arises when athletes do not stay in shape but then try to get inshape quickly, or artificially, through dietary supplements."

And, compounding the situation, Bechler was suffering fromseveral medical conditions, including an enlarged heart, abnormal liver functionand borderline hypertension, according to Perper, who was quoted by The NewYork Times. Perper also told the Times Bechler had apparently placedhimself on a strict diet, having eaten very little solid food for several daysbefore his death.

Michael Silver, writing for Sports Illustrated (www.si.com),suggested ephedra may not have been solely responsible for Bechler's death. Hewrote, "It's so much easier to blame the drug--and, by extension, theathlete who chose to use it--than it is to examine the culture that causedBechler and Stringer [Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings tackle who died in2001] to push their bodies to the limit ... Those concerned with the welfare ofmajor leaguers might want to consider prohibiting players who are out of shapewhen they report from suddenly and severely restricting their food intake, thensweating off more pounds in the heat and humidity."

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