StarCaps suspends sale of pill taken by NFL players

NEW ORLEANS -- The makers of an over-the-counter weight-loss pill have suspended shipments following accusations the product contains but does not list an ingredient banned by the NFL.

"We've received notice of the problem with the NFL," the makers of StarCaps said in a statement released by e-mail Thursday. The statement added that the company is "taking all necessary steps to ensure that our customers receive product that is safe and effective."

Saints players Jamar Nesbit and Deuce McAllister say they tested positive for the diuretic Bumetanide after using StarCaps. Nesbit, who filed suit against StarCaps this week, already served a four-game suspension. McAllister is among six to eight players under investigation by the league for taking a diuretic, which the NFL considers a masking agent for steroids.

A person familiar with the case provided the number of players involved and spoke on condition of anonymity because the players are appealing.

While temporarily suspending shipments and new sales on its Web site, the company stopped short of issuing a recall.

StarCaps attorney Marc Ullman, with the firm Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman in New York, said a recall would be premature until the company received results from lab tests that should be completed in a week or two.

"If the product is adulterated with this substance, it's not something we knew about or wanted to have happen and we need to get to the bottom of what's going on here," Ullman said. "Obviously, we hope our test results indicate there's no contamination."

Ullman said he is unaware of any previous consumer complaints about the pills, which he said are aimed at women and have been on the market for about 20 years.

However, a study published in the November/December 2007 issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found traces of Bumetanide in urine tests of people who took StarCaps.

Performed by the Center for Human Toxicology at the University of Utah, the study found "unregulated dietary supplements may put consumers at risk for unwitting consumption of prescription medications, and that it is possible for athletes to inadvertently test positive for Bumetanide and face disciplinary actions."

McAllister and two other Saints, defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, all are appealing possible four-game suspensions they could face as first-time violators of the NFL's drug policy.

The attorney handling their consolidated appeal, David Cornwell, compared StarCaps' move to suspend shipments to "closing the barn door after the horse has bolted."

Nesbit chose not to appeal. His lawsuit, filed in federal district court in New Jersey, seeks the $235,294 he lost in salary while suspended, as well as additional money for damage to his reputation and for the company's alleged, undisclosed spiking of StarCaps with the NFL-banned diuretic.

McAllister has said he began using StarCaps about four years ago and had the pills tested when he first began taking them. He said those lab tests did not show any banned ingredients.

Several experts interviewed by the AP have said they found it odd that NFL players would choose to use Bumetanide because it is so easy to detect in drug tests and well known for potentially harmful side effects such as dehydration.

Ullman, meanwhile, questioned why NFL players would take diet pills marketed primarily toward women.

"This is advertised in women's magazines. It targets that audience. It's not in ESPN magazine, Sports Illustrated or any publication like that," Ullman said. "It struck me as kind of peculiar that an NFL offensive lineman would be using a women's diet pill, as were apparently some of his teammates and some other players.

"It makes me wonder if these guys knew something about the pill that we didn't," Ullman added.

Nesbit's attorney, Brian Molloy, said questioning the consumer's motives for taking the pill is not appropriate.

"That's curious that an NFL lineman would know more about a product than the manufacturer," Molloy said. "It's also curious that only after they have been sued would they suspend sales and not do the responsible thing by recalling the product."