Crosby woman sues Metabolife

HOUSTON — Deliberations continued this week in a civil lawsuit brought by a Crosby woman against diet supplement giant Metabolife International.

According to court documents, Rhea McAllister said that in April 2002 she suffered a stroke a month after she began taking Metabolife 356. McAllister, who was 33 at the time, said that Metabolife International knowingly sold a dangerous product whose main ingredient, ephedra, has been named as a cause of heart attacks, stroke and seizures.

McAllister’s attorney, Edward Blizzard, said that the stroke symptoms occurred over several days that that his client still suffers adverse affects from the incident.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “the principal ingredient ephedrine is an amphetamine-like compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart.” Ephedra is also used in Chinese medicine under the name Ma huang.

Attornies for Metabolife International said that they never received any complaints that their supplement was dangerous. The FDA disagrees. They said that Metabolife failed to report some 13,000 complaints dealing with health conditions. When Congress held hearings on Metabolife and ephedra, the supplement’s creator Michael Ellis refused to testify claiming Fifth Amendment protection.

The website “classaction” claims that the FDA has gotten reports of over 100 deaths which resulted from ephedra-base supplement use.

Ellis is a former police officer and San Diego businessman who was arrested in 1992 in connection with a methamphetamine lab near his Rancho Santa Fe estate. During the raid, police seized enough chemical supplies to make 500 pounds of methamphetamine. Ephedra is a main component in the drug.

After pleading guilty to using a telephone to facilitate a drug deal, Ellis was given five years probation. The same year he launched the ephedra-based herbal supplement Fosslip. Commercially unsuccessful, he reformulated the supplement and released it in 1995 as Metabolife356.

On April 12, the FDA published a final ruling that banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids, like those in Metabolife. Following the ruling, the company pulled their product and released a non-ephedra version.

This is not the first time that Metabolife International has been sued over their product.

In 2002, Connie Thornburg of Fayetteville, Al. was awarded a $4.6 million judgment. This was the first successful case against the company. The judgment is under appeal.

Court watchers say that they expect the McAllister case to wrap up by the end of the week.