I am writing about the The Post's May 24 articles on ephedrine and a prevailing issue in the regulation of dietary supplements and herbal products ["Stimulant Propels Diet Market," front page; "Texas Concedes Battle, Settles for Warning on Ephedrine," news story].

In the absence of strong federal guidelines, each state is left to address the regulation of these products, resulting in a 50-scrap patchwork quilt of confusing, contradictory, often ineffective and sometimes nonexistent regulations.

Recently, in Texas, after several years of futile attempts to implement prescription-based rules, we turned to mediated rule-making with the dietary supplement industry to move us off square one. Some believe the new rules based on warning labels do not go far enough, and others believe they go too far. But I believe they will lead to a better-informed, though not a completely informed, public. At least we have something where nothing existed before.

Nationwide, more people are seeing alternative health care providers than are visiting traditional primary care physicians, and more and more people are turning to herbal health products. Yet we do not have sufficient national regulations to inform and protect the public. We have not established a safe serving level of ephedrine in dietary supplements. We do not know what a safe daily intake level is. We do not know how long someone should take the product. We do not know if there are long-term effects.

It is time for Congress to expand the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994. It should free the Food and Drug Administration to establish national testing and safety requirements that will allow the public to use beneficial dietary supplements and herbal products with some degree of confidence that the products are generally safe and effective when used as directed. Currently, the law allows products on the shelf that have not been tested, leaving the public ill-informed of any risks, uncertain of the validity of any claims and wondering if the manufacturer's recommended dosage is safe.

We must do better, and we must do it nationally. We have not used caveat emptor with our foods and drugs. We should not use caveat emptor with our dietary supplements and herbal health products.


Texas Commissioner of Health

Austin, Tex.