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Companies to pay nearly $1M in ephedra marketing case

NEWARK, N.J. -- The makers of a weight-loss product implicated in the death of a Baltimore Orioles pitcher will pay New Jersey nearly $1 million to settle claims that it exaggerated the benefits and understated the risks of its concoctions.

The settlement announced by the state Monday involves Nutraquest Inc., a Wall Township company, its owner and three related companies that have agreed not to make unsubstantiated claims in their advertising.

Nutraquest is the successor of a company that made an ephedra-based product that was found to have contributed to the February 2003 spring training death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

The 23-year-old had been taking one of the company's products that included ephedra, Xenadrine RFA-1. A medical examiner said ephedra contributed to Bechler's heatstroke, in which his body temperature rose to 108 degrees.

Ephedra was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2004 although a federal judge in April struck down the ban. The company says it stopped selling ephedra-based products in 2003 because they were no longer profitable.

New Jersey sued the companies in 2003 over their marketing for Xenadrine RFA-1 and Xenadrine EFX, which does not contain ephedra and continues to be sold.

"They had targeted vulnerable consumers with false promises of dramatic weight loss with little to no effort," Attorney General Peter Harvey said. "The fact is, there is no miracle weight loss product. We're protecting the public's health and safety by preventing the defendants from claiming that a product is safe or effective unless there is scientific evidence to substantiate those statements."

A call to the company's executive offices was not immediately returned Monday. An attorney representing them, Brian Molloy, had no immediate comment.

Nutraquest, formerly known as Cytodyne Technologies, filed for bankruptcy in October 2003, citing, among other things, lawsuits filed against it. Bechler's widow filed a $600 million wrongful death suit against the company. That lawsuit, along with several others, is in mediation talks, attorneys said Monday.

The state previously won settlements of between $15,500 and $17,500 each with five New Jersey doctors accused of providing testimonials that falsely suggested they had conducted research on Xenadrine RFA-1 and found it to be safe and effective.
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