Caffeine energy drinks linked with serious illness, soaring ER visits
A more than tenfold increase in emergency room visits by people who consumed caffeine energy drinks is described in a report issued by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
About half of people age 18 to 25 who sought emergency room treatment had consumed a mix of alcohol or other drugs and caffeine-based energy drinks.
In 2009, the latest available figures, 16,053 individuals showed up at hospitals seeking help for symptoms after consuming an energy drink. In 2005, that number was 1,128, according to SAMHSA.
Experts said much of the steep increase in energy drink-related ER visits likely was because of Four Loko, which combined alcohol and caffeine. In 2010, the FDA ruled that caffeine was an unsafe food additive in alcoholic beverages, which effectively took Four Loko off the market.
However, Dr. Keith Borg, a Medical University emergency medicine specialist, said he still sees patients who mix alcohol and caffeine energy drinks, a particularly dangerous combination.
Caffeine counteracts the effect of alcohol so that a drinker does not feel fatigue and lethargy, he said. A person feels less intoxicated, but the blood alcohol level is unchanged, which can lead to an individual becoming more intoxicated than they realize, the FDA said.
“It tends to be in younger drinkers who don’t know what they’re doing,” Borg said.
Allegations of fatalities linked to the energy drink Monster, although not proved, have refocused attention on the safety of caffeine levels in the beverage and many others like it.
Reports dating to 2004 filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration claiming a link between Monster, five fatalities and a non-fatal heart attack became public recently as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by a Maryland mother, Wendy Crossland.
Her daughter, 14, died in December from heart arrhythmia after drinking two 32-ounce cans of Monster over a 24-hour period. Crossland filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage charging that the company failed to warn about the risks of its energy drinks. The company has said its products are safe and not the cause of the girl’s death, according to news reports.
“We continue to look into it and see if we need to take any action. We take any death seriously,” said FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess. “It’s a long process. All of the cases are still considered open.”
Read more in upcoming editions of The Post and Courier.