FDA Targets Popular Supplement

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2000 -- A dietary supplement popular with athletes and fitness fiends is implicated in at least six deaths and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to shut down suppliers of the substance.

The substance, gamma butyrolactone, or GBL, is marketed under a number of brand names, including Blue Nitro, Firewater, Invigorate, Vitality, Insom-X and GH Revitalizer. .

Athletes take it to aid in sleep after an intense workout. It's also thought to have muscles recover more quickly.

The supplement is being blamed for the recent near-fatal seizure suffered by Phoenix Suns forward Tom Gugliotta. He suffered a seizure on the team bus after a game in Portland Dec. 17 and was hospitalized in serious condition.

The Suns' team doctor said Gugliotta told him he had taken a supplement containing GBL because he had been having trouble sleeping.

GBL is widely sold, both as a liquid and powder, at gyms and fitness centers, through the Internet and in some health-food stores.

The FDA says the drug can cause dangerously low respiratory rates, leading to unconsciousness, coma and death. As an industrial product, the substance is used as a paint stripper.

The FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations said that as of Dec. 16, 1999, the day before Gugliotta's seizure, it had recorded 116 arrests, 55 convictions and 38 indictments. The agency is actively scanning the Internet and searching retail shelves for the product.

The drug's not only dangerous, there's also no proof it works, FDA scientists said. They said those selling the drug are "opportunists."

Promoters of the drug also claim it can help with weight loss and stress reduction.

GBL products may be labeled as containing 2(3H)-furanone dihydro, butyrolactone, gamma-butyrolactone, 4-butyrolactone, dihyro-2(3H)-furanon, 4-butanolide and tetrahydro-2-furanone.