By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — A Big Island woman is suing two companies who made and sold a dietary supplement that was pulled from shelves as state health officials investigate links to cases of hepatitis and liver failure.
Lawyers for Everine Van Houten, 33, of Keaau said Wednesday that she bought and used OxyELITE Pro, then began experiencing abdominal pain, fatigue and nausea one month later. The lawyers said she was diagnosed with acute hepatitis, then later learned of the possible link to the supplement through a public health notice.
The personal injury lawsuit was filed in federal court in Hawaii on Tuesday. It names USPlabs LLC as the maker of the supplement and GNC Holdings Inc. as the owner of the store where Van Houten bought the supplement. The supplement is marketed to be used for weight loss and muscle building.
A spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based GNC declined to comment, saying the company doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits as a matter of corporate policy. USPlabs did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment from the Associated Press.
GNC, which runs about 8,200 stores nationwide, earned $73 million during the third quarter. Shares of its stock dropped $1.28, 2.2 percent, to $58.15 on Wednesday.
Hawaii’s Health Department ordered stores to stop selling the supplement last month, then began collecting stocks of the supplement, which comes in pill and powder form. The department stopped short of a plan to destroy the supplements Wednesday when a Hawaii lawyer asked that they be preserved as possible evidence in future litigation.
GNC said last month that all its 25 Hawaii stores voluntarily complied before the embargo was issued. USPlabs said in a release on its website earlier this month that it was voluntarily conducting a national recall.
Health officials said the supplement has been connected with 36 cases of liver damage and acute hepatitis in Hawaii, with use of the product the only common factor between the cases.
Van Houten, who worked as a clerk at Hilo Medical Center, had to miss a significant amount of work time during the past year, her lawyers said in the complaint. The complaint said she is still experiencing symptoms and is having her liver monitored.
The complaint does not specify a dollar amount for damages but said Van Houten is seeking to recoup lost wages, medical and travel expenses and other damages.