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Maine may ban dietary supplements in high school sports

A state senator in Maine has introduced a bill to ban performance-enhancing supplements in high school athletics there. If passed, it would be the second such law on the books, following on the heels of California's ban, passed last October.

"We saw this with ephedrine in the late 1990s, early 2000—we saw at least a dozen states introducing bills because they were going to get into this issue if they didn't think [the Food and Drug Administration] was acting fast enough," said Steven Mister, president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition.

The problem with such an approach, Mister said, is that some state officials don't understand how dietary supplements are regulated, or the difference between truly dangerous substances, such as anabolic steroids, and dietary supplements that might actually help with post-athletic recovery. "They're getting impatient and getting into the mix," Mister said. "We're concerned to see these kinds of bills at all; they're usually based off misinformation that supplements are somehow not safe for our kids, and that's not true."

Sen. Michael Brennan, representing Maine's 9th District, introduced the bill to the state legislature in January. Last week it was considered by the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

According to the bill, any dietary supplement that is currently on a list of banned substances maintained by the National Collegiate Athletic Association or the World Anti-Doping Agency would be banned in Maine high school athletics. The bill would also specifically ban ephedrine, synephrine and DHEA.

"Those lists have dozens of substances [that] are either illegal drugs or prescription medicines," Mister said. "Synephrine is not on those lists. And ephedrine, of course, is really not on the market after the FDA ban a couple yrs ago."

CRN has written to Brennan, urging him to reconsider. "This legislation does not protect high school athletes from using anabolic steroids, growth hormone or illegal drugs because these substances would not be prohibited by this bill," the letter said.

Mister said the only substance on either list that can be sold as a dietary supplement is DHEA, and concern about that is overblown. "It's not an anabolic steroid. It's marketed to older people to counter the effects of aging and declining hormone levels. I think DHEA is getting a bum rap here. The science of DHEA just does not support that it would be used by teenage athletes to support their performance."

A Maine newspaper erroneously reported that "the bill would ban any substance falling within the federal definition of 'dietary supplement.'"

"That is one of our concerns about this kind of legislation," Mister said. "Because of the way it's written, coaches and others are likely to do the same thing this reporter did, and say 'Oh, I have to tell my athletes they're not allowed to use dietary supplements.'"

Brennan has said the ban is no different than what college and Olympic athletes face, and that it levels the competitive playing field while protecting student health.

"The only things that are enumerated that must be on the list are dietary supplements," Mister said. "What should be on the list is anabolic steroids, which kids have no business being involved with."

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