Hawaii orders stores to pull supplement

HONOLULU – Hawaii’s Department of Health is requiring stores to stop selling a dietary supplement that’s under investigation for possible ties to hepatitis and liver failure.

The department told retailers Thursday that they must take OxyELITE Pro, used for weight loss and muscle-building, off the shelves and store it for state inspectors to inventory.

The initial voluntary removal was stepped up to an embargo to determine how much of the product is out there and because nutrition store GNC initially said it wouldn’t comply, department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Friday.

“We did decide to take that extra step,” Okubo said about the embargo. “The vast majority of retailers complied.”

GNC issued a statement saying that all 25 Hawaii stores voluntarily complied before the embargo was issued. GNC and manufacturer USPlabs maintain that the product is safe.

Defying the embargo could result in financial penalties. The move gives the department the authority to go store to store to take inventory, which Okubo said could take two to three days.

Health officials said there were reports of OxyELITE Pro use in 24 of 29 cases of hepatitis and liver failure that they’re investigating. The supplement comes in pill and powder form.

Earlier Friday, health officials said the number of cases under investigation had grown to 32. But later in the day, Mark Berthold, a spokesman for the department’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, said the figure was revised back to 29; he could not provide an explanation for the change.

Fifteen cases came from Oahu, seven from Hawaii County, one from Maui County and one from Kauai County, Berthold said. Four are unknown and one is classified as “refused.”

The sister of a Maui woman who died last week said Sonnette Marras, 48, had been taking the pills to lose pregnancy weight.