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News Briefs I

FDA May Regulate Herb Stimulants


After hundreds of reports of bad reactions, including 17 deaths, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving toward controlling sales and distribution of herbal products containing ephedrine advertised as giving a "natural high."

During a two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the agency's Food Advisory Committee is reviewing scientific data related to adverse health events, including deaths, linked to herbal supplements containing the stimulant ephedrine.

The main target of FDA action is an alkaloid compound called ephedrine. It is included under various names in some herbal products and over-the-counter drugs. Because it is officially viewed as a food supplement, ephedrine use has been essentially unregulated by the FDA. In some cases, ephedrine-containing potions are promoted as aphrodesiacs, energy boosters or even legal substitutes for illicit drugs.

Until recently, ephedrine-containing products were easily available, even to youngsters through convenience and health stores. But now 21 states have moved to restrict sales, or at least require warning labels.

Fugitive American Financier Vesco Gets 13-Year Sentence in Cuba

The Washington Post

American financier Robert Vesco, one of the most wanted U.S. fugitives, was sentenced to 13 years in a Cuban prison Monday for economic crimes against the government of Fidel Castro.

The announcement was made by the official Cuban media in Havana. Vesco's Cuban wife, Lidia Alfonsa Llauger, was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping Vesco. She is being held at the maximum security Villa Marista prison.

Vesco, 60, who could have received a 20-year sentence, spent years on the run from U.S. authorities before settling in Cuba in 1983, where he lived regally until running afoul of the Castro government in recent years.

Wanted in the United States on charges of stealing $224 million from a mutual fund, Vesco also has been indicted on drug-trafficking charges. He settled first in Costa Rica, then Nicaragua and the Bahamas before landing in Cuba - which has repeatedly refused U.S. extradition requests.

The case against Vesco in Cuba centered on a scheme to develop and market a miracle drug, known as TX, that is supposed to be a cure for cancer, AIDS and the common cold. When he was arrested in May 1995, Vesco was charged with trying to develop and market the drug behind the backs of Cuban officials. There is no known scientific evidence to back up the claims of TX's healing powers.

During his detention, Vesco denied he was a U.S. citizen, saying he had taken out Italian citizenship instead. He refused U.S. consular visits but did see Italian diplomats.

California to Start Welfare Reform

Los Angeles Times

Gov. Pete Wilson Tuesday took his first step to implement federal welfare reform in California, ordering state agencies to stop providing public services for illegal immigrants except lower education, emergency health care and incarceration - the most costly programs to the state.

Many of Wilson's cuts directed at California's nearly 2 million illegal immigrants are the same as those approved by voters two years ago with the passage of Proposition 187. So far, however, the changes have been blocked by a federal judge.

Now, Wilson says the way has been cleared anew by federal welfare reform signed last week by President Clinton.

Attorneys representing immigrants said they are studying the governor's order, and that the issue may land back in court again.

But this time, Wilson officials will contend that they are implementing federal law, not changing the state's.

"Today, California takes a step forward in reforming a welfare system so that it once again encourages personal responsibility and no longer rewards those who break the law by entering the country illegally," Wilson said at a news conference in his Cainet room, where he signed an executive order to implement his directive.

Wilson's order will trigger the requirement that all applicants for state services must now prove their citizenship for eligibility.

Wilson's order Tuesday directs state agencies to search their jurisdictions for any additional programs in which illegal immigrants might participate.