A baseball player mistakenly took Oriental herbal medicine and failed a doping test recently, which prompted the medical community to call for strict control on filling prescriptions of traditional herbal medicine.
They also urged the authorities to manage more strictly the use of Ephedra, or mahuang, a commonly used ingredient in herbal medicine.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) said it learned from the Korea Anti-Doping Agency (KADA) that SK Wyverns’ Im Seok-jin violated its anti-doping regulation on professional sports players by ingesting a banned medicine. Failing the drug test done in August, Im faces a ban in 36 games starting from the 2018 season.
The prohibited medicine Im took was Ephedrine, which is included in the herbal medicine to treat acne on his face. Im said he had known that Oriental herbal medicine could contain a banned herb, asking his Oriental medicine practitioner to exclude questionable ingredients from the herbal medicine. However, the practitioner reportedly went ahead to include the Ephedra because Im would be out of games due to his finger injury.
Under the current law, an Oriental medicine practitioner is not obligated to issue a filling prescription which should include the names and doses of ingredients. Im thought his medicine did not contain the Ephedra, ingested it, and failed the drug test on the KBO Futures League, a minor league below the KBO League.
News reports of Im prompted the Korean Medical Association to demand Oriental medicine practitioners issue filling prescriptions as well.
“It is sad that Oriental herbal medicine with no clear evidence of effectiveness and safety, and the carelessness of an Oriental medicine practitioner made the 20-year-old young athlete, who should actively play, out of games for a long time,” the KMA said in a statement. “The recent case reminded us of the need to issue filling prescriptions for Oriental herbal medicine.”
Any physician specializing in sports medicine should be aware of the risk of using ephedra and the doping regulation on the ingredient, the KMA noted.
“If Im had a filling prescription and was aware what kind of herbal ingredients was included, his team doctor could have prevented Im’s drug test failure,” the association said. “Ephedra is a dangerous ingredient with serious side effects including heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmia which could be even fatal.”
In the U.S., the FDA banned the use of Ephedra in 2004, following a sudden death of Major Leaguer Steve Bechler who took supplements that included the ingredient in 2003. After the ban, Ephedra-related side effects and deaths drastically went down in the U.S., the KMA said.
The association urged the health authorities to obligate Oriental medicine practitioners to issue filling prescriptions and strictly manage the doses and dose lengths of Ephedra, citing its serious side effects.
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