Lewis S. Mike Eidson
Lewis S. Mike Eidson (J. Albert Diaz)

Like millions of Americans, Eric Rizzo wanted to lose weight and get muscular. And like many people looking to get healthy, he turned to a dietary supplement.

But rather than getting him thinner and stronger, the supplement OxyElite Pro almost killed Rizzo and permanently damaged his liver, he claims in a federal lawsuit filed in Miami on Feb. 3.

Rizzo, who lives in Islamorada, has joined nearly 40 other plaintiffs who filed federal lawsuits against Dallas-based USPlabs LLC, the manufacturer of OxyElite Pro tablets and powders.

Rizzo found himself getting sick around Christmas for unknown reasons. He started turning yellow as his liver stopped functioning.

“I was fading pretty fast,” he said. “I was just getting sicker and sicker, and finally around New Year’s Day a friend said if I didn’t go to the hospital he was going to call 911. He thought it was food-borne.”

The doctors were flabbergasted at Rizzo’s condition, he said. “I was a couple days of dying from liver toxicity,” he said.

Doctors found Rizzo’s liver wasn’t functioning but could not determine a medical reason why. After he got out of the hospital, Rizzo got a call from the doctors asking him if he might have taken a product called OxyElite. Doctors stabilized Rizzo through medications, but he said he still may need a transplant. He was diagnosed with acute, nonviral hepatitis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to USPlabs last Oct. 11 saying the product was adulterated and followed up with another letter Nov. 6 linking the product to liver illnesses.

Rizzo, who is self-employed in the real estate industry, took the product after he and a lawyer friend visited Vitamin Shoppe stores in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. They purchased OxyElite Pro tablets. Later in November, Rizzo purchased the product in powder form. The clerk retrieved the powder from under the counter.

“I’m guessing somebody took it off the counter to throw it away,” said Rizzo’s attorney, Lewis S. “Mike” Eidson.

FDA Complaints

Rizzo said: “They assured us it was safe. As long as you exercise with it nothing would happen. We were walking four miles a day.”

Vitamin Shoppe is a chain of nutritional supplement stores based in North Bergen, N.J. A call to its headquarters for comment was not returned by deadline.

Eidson, a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, noted the $32 billion supplement industry is unregulated. He said the FDA gets involved only when there are complaints, which is what happened with this product.

A check of federal court dockets for other lawsuits against USPlabs found the company has responded to few complaints. Attorney Ruth Brewer Schuster, a partner at Brewer & Lormand in Dallas who has represented the company, did not return a call for comment. A call to the company’s headquarters also was not returned.

Eidson said USPlabs wants to consolidate the cases for pretrial actions in multidistrict litigation. Many of the lawsuits are in Hawaii, but Eidson said a California federal court might be a good compromise location.

Rizzo’s negligence lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard in Miami.

CEO With A Record

Eidson said USPlab CEO Jacob Geissler is an ex-convict convicted of possession of thousands of illegal steroid pills in 2003. Geissler was put on community supervision for 10 years, and a judge in 2009 granted his petition for early termination.

In an earlier formulation of its OxyElite Pro product, USPlabs included the stimulant dimethylamylamine, or DMMA that was found to cause high blood pressure and possibly heart attacks, seizures, psychiatric disorders and death, according to the Rizzo lawsuit.

After removing DMMA from its products, the FDA said it found aegeline, a synthetic version of a natural alkaloid extract from the leaves of the Asian bael tree.

Eidson said some OxyElite products may still be available online.

“We believe you can still buy this online,” he said. “We have been able to locate a number of websites where it looks like the same formulation. I just want people to know and not take it anymore, that this product has been related to acute liver disease.”

Rizzo said he can’t enjoy life in his Keys paradise.

“I can’t fish. I can’t go scuba diving,” he said. “The doctors refuse to let me do anything. I can’t risk any type of injury.”