Parents around the world have let out a collective sigh. Alcoholic beverages that also contain copious amounts of caffeine have come under fire by the Food and Drug Administration.
Federal officials began a crackdown last week, warning companies that market the increasingly popular but apparently dangerous drinks to college students that the products are illegal. The FDA sent letters to four companies that produce seven products, saying the agency had concluded that adding caffeine to alcohol was unsafe and unapproved. The agency warned (on Nov. 17) that if the companies have not taken action within 15 days, the FDA could seek a court order barring them from continuing to sell the products.
Initially, companies like Phusion Projects, which makes Four Loko, one of the so-called "killer cocktails," stated that adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages was safe, even though scores of students were going to the hospital for alcoholic poisoning after drinking their products. You may remember when 50 Central Washington University students got sick after drinking Four Loko at a house party on Oct. 8. The blood-alcohol content of students ranged from 0.12 percent to 0.335 percent. In Washington, 0.08 is the legal limit for intoxication, but 0.3 can be lethal. Nine students were hospitalized after the house party incident. High-profile incidents have also occurred on college campuses in Michigan, Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The trend of students getting sick from these caffeinated alcoholic beverages has not escaped Charlotte. UNC Charlotte health officials reported in early November that Four Loko was a major problem on campus. Angela Allen, a UNC Charlotte health counselor, recently told News 14: "Most of the students that we see that were transported to the hospital, there was Four Loko involved. Especially female students." Female students don't only have to worry about getting drunk or having a near-death experience, but also being victims of date rape, the likelihood of which increases when alcohol is involved.
After Phusion Projects came under fire for the high-profile incidents, the company spokesperson simply stated that it was "urging responsible drinking." How can you be "urging responsible drinking" when one can of the actual beverage is equal to one six pack of beer and four cups of coffee? So, it wasn't the product — it was the student's inability to monitor his or her intake?
Yes students bear some responsibility for monitoring what they drink and how much, but we all know that students are just that — students. They need guidance from adults, like those who work at Phusion Projects. When that fails, school officials and attorney generals have to step into the picture. Common sense should tell you not to drink something as potent as these caffeinated alcoholic beverages; common sense should also tell you not to make something so potent and market it to impressionable students. How could anything good come from something so bad?
At any rate, after public outrage, and the state attorney generals for Washington, Michigan and Iowa calling for the products to be banned, the FDA investigated. The agency did not find support for Phusion's claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is "generally recognized as safe, which is the legal standard," according to Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner in a written statement. "To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern." You think?
Officials from the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and state attorney generals from Iowa and Washington state banded together to tackle this alarming trend. In what looked like an attempt to get in front of the decision, Phusion Projects announced on Nov. 16, the night before the FDA sent letters to the four companies, that it was removing caffeine and other substances from all of its products.
Michigan became the first state to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages, effective the first week of December. Other states are expected to follow suit. What's sad about it is that even though all of these agencies and lawyers have come together to protect young people, it is being reported that students are stocking up on the drinks before they are off the shelves or the content is changed. Clearly, common sense still isn't so common; you'd have to be loco to drink Four Loko.