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Supporters of bill banning youth supplements, diet pills in Mass. bring awareness to the issue

Over-the-counter weight loss pills.
Seth Wenig
Over-the-counter weight loss pills.

Public health advocates looking to block the sale of over-the-counter diet pills and muscle-building supplements to young Massachusetts residents, gathered Tuesday on Beacon Hill to spur support for a stalled bill, as they stare down a three-week timeline until the end of formal sessions.

Advocates said the pills and supplements are "dangerously under-regulated products" that can trigger a wave of health problems in young people, including eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, heart attacks, strokes and liver damage. Legislation (H 2215) banning the distribution of the products to individuals under age 18 has been pending in the House Ways and Means Committee since the end of May.

Before advocates with the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) fanned out to meet with lawmakers, bill sponsor Rep. Kay Khan, D- Newton, told them they had a powerful ally in Gov. Maura Healey, who's raised concerns about diet pills since her tenure as attorney general.

"She was concerned, and I don't even think we had gone to her, but she was concerned about the products, and she got together with, I think, about 13 other AGs around the country, and they wrote to the Congress to say they really need to take a look at this. It didn't go anywhere," Khan said. "So I'm really convinced that if we can get it passed the Legislature and to the governor's desk, I think we'd be OK."

Khan was referencing an April 2015 letter to federal lawmakers, which Healey signed, calling for a "comprehensive congressional inquiry" into herbal supplements, described as a subcategory for dietary supplements. The letter — also signed by attorneys general from Indiana, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, U.S. territory Northern Mariana Islands, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. — urged a potentially more "robust oversight role for the Food and Drug Administration."

Khan and Bryn Austin, director of STRIPED, based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children's Hospital, said they recently met with Healey about this session's bills