Chemist's New Product Contains Hidden Substance

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

An Illinois chemist awaiting sentencing for his role in the biggest steroid scandal in U.S. history has for months been involved in marketing a dietary supplement containing a little-known amphetamine-like substance that would be undetectable in current sports drug tests, according to an analysis of the product for The Post.

Patrick Arnold, who in a recent plea deal admitted providing steroids to the drug ring that ensnared Barry Bonds and a number of other famous athletes, runs a company that has been selling the amphetamine-like compound over the Internet in a dietary supplement that describes the substance with the invented trademark name Geranamine.

It is illegal to sell dietary supplements without listing the ingredients by their common or usual names, according to Robert Moore, the Food and Drug Administration's Team Leader in the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs.

The product, Ergopharm's Ergolean AMP, contains an obscure substance that was patented in 1944 and considered for use as an inhalant for nasal decongestion by Eli Lilly and Company. It is known as methylhexaneamine, according to Don Catlin, a noted researcher who analyzed the product and was reimbursed for the work by The Post.

"The chemical structure is similar to amphetamines and ephedrine," said Catlin, whose Los Angeles laboratory provides drug testing for Olympic sports, minor league baseball, the NFL and NCAA. "In this class of drugs, everything depends on the dose. Take enough of it and your heart rate and blood pressure will go up and you can die."

Amphetamines are illegal without a prescription. An official at one of Arnold's companies told The Post the substance was legal because it could be found in nature. Ephedrine, also found in nature, was banned from the dietary supplement market after Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in 2003 died after using it.

Stimulants have been abused by athletes for decades and were considered mainstays in Major League Baseball clubhouses, many players have said publicly, before baseball began a drug testing program in 2004. Because methylhexaneamine would not show up in standard drug screens -- though that will quickly change as soon as Catlin's discovery is publicized -- it could offer athletes in sports that test for stimulants such as ephedrine and amphetamines an alternative that would not produce a positive test.

Athletes have shown they are desperate for such shortcuts. A number of top track and field athletes, including burgeoning superstar Kelli White, were found in 2003 to be using modafinil, which is a prescription drug used to treat narcolepsy that also is in the amphetamines class. After testing positive for the drug under a strict testing code unique to France, White was forced to relinquish her 2003 world championship medals in the 100 and 200 meters. The drug later was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Companies that wish to market ingredients that have never before been sold in dietary supplements are required to notify the FDA before doing so and to provide information about the product's safety. The FDA has received no notification about methylhexaneamine from Ergopharm, an FDA spokesperson said. Companies are only exempted from this pre-market notification if the ingredient was marketed in a supplement before 1994 or has a history of use in the food supply.

AMP's label states that the product is a "proprietary blend" of Geranamine, theobroma cacau seed and caffeine. Geranamine has no scientific meaning, Catlin said. The trademark was applied for in January 2005 and is held by Proviant, Ergopharm's parent company. According to the trademark registration, Geranamine is a "constituent of flower oil sold as an integral component of nutritional supplements."

In response to an e-mail query directed to Arnold about methylhexaneamine's presence in AMP and the product's legality, Matthew Daniel, a research and development chemist at Proviant, said Geranamine was found in nature and therefore legal to market in a dietary supplement. He included a reference line to a Chinese research paper.

"Geranamine was found to be in geranium oil that was extracted from geranium plants," Daniel wrote in his only e-mail response. "It is a naturally occuring [sic] compound."

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