The reactions of local high school football coaches were positive Tuesday when news spread of the federal government's ban on the sale of ephedra. In fact, most saw the ban coming.
"They've had so many problems with guys dropping dead on it, I think it was a long time coming," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. "I wasn't really surprised it happened. I figured it was a matter of time."
The herbal supplement, which promises to increase stamina and energy and has been linked to a number of deaths and harmful side effects in recent years, was already looked down upon in most quarters. Many local coaches don't allow players to take the supplement. Most coaches also warned against the use of such supplements, lumping them in the same category of dangerous performance-enhancers as steroids.
"We always informed them to stay away from certain things and that was one of them," Horizon coach Keith Brown said. "We didn't know all the details, but there were certainly some links to death because of it, and it seemed like some of the heart problems were linked to it. We told them to stay away from that just like steroids and everything else." According to The Associated Press, negative publicity due to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher last February had already begun to hurt sales of ephedra.
In fact, many stores quit carrying it altogether. General Nutrition Centers stopped selling the supplement early in the summer, while Scottsdale-based Hi-Health said in August it planned to stop selling ephedra-related products after its supplies were exhausted.
Most convenience stores, many of which place the brightly colored supplement packages at the checkout counter, also stopped carrying ephedra.
In a six-page special report published in August that examined supplement use, the Tribune found two convenience stores that sold ephedra products — AM/PM and 7-Eleven. AM/PM sites visited on Tuesday no longer carried ephedra, but two 7-Elevens among three visited in Mesa and Tempe still sold two ephedra-laced supplements.
Seven other East Valley convenience-store franchises surveyed Tuesday did not carry ephedra products.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association began looking into ephedra about a year and a half ago. Since then, the AIA has recommended a bylaw that discourages the use of dietary supplements by high school athletes and calls for schools to educate their athletes on the dangers they present.
Executive director Harold Slemmer said the AIA's fight won't stop with ephedra.
"Our concern is there will be other things coming down the pike that we don't even know will be there," Slemmer said. "The hard part is just predicting what's next. What will somebody invent next that kids think they need to take?"