On the heels of several statewide bans on alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko and Joose, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to weigh in this week on the safety of drinks that mix caffeine and alcohol.
This past weekend, a collective of New York State’s largest beer distributors, along with Four Loko–maker Phusion Projects, agreed to stop supplying the drinks to local stores by Dec 10. So far, four other states have banned the drinks outright, following several incidents of serious drunkenness, illness and death. (More on Time.com: 4 Reasons Binge Drinking Is a Public Health Problem)
Four Loko, the top-selling alcoholic energy drink, was implicated in the recent deaths of two Florida teenagers — one mixed the drink with diet pills and the other shot himself after drinking several cans of Four Loko. The drink was also recently found at the scene of a kidnapping and torture case in New York City, and has been blamed for the hospitalization or illness of students who consumed it at college parties at Central Washington University, Skidmore College and Ramapo College in New Jersey, among others.
Four Loko contains about 12% alcohol (the equivalent of two beers) and about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. The combination tricks drinkers into thinking they are not as drunk they are, because the caffeine keeps them alert. For many drinkers — especially teenagers and college students, among whom the drink is popular — this mixing of alcohol and caffeine can turn deadly. (More on Time.com: ‘Blackout in a Can’: Alcoholic Energy Drinks Keep Wreaking Havoc)
“There’s a particular interaction that goes on in the brain when they are consumed simultaneously,” Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University told the New York Times. “The addition of the caffeine impairs the ability of the drinker to tell when they’re drunk. What is the level at which it becomes dangerous? We don’t know that, and until we can figure it out, the answer is that no level is safe.”
The FDA has been reviewing the safety of alcoholic energy drinks, which come in about 40 different varieties, for the past year. The agency is expected to come to a decision as soon as Wednesday, Nov. 17. The Times reports:
The agency declined to say what it would do, but several food safety lawyers who once worked for it said a likely option was to use warning letters to inform manufacturers that the drinks were adulterated and, therefore, not safe.
Such letters would probably give the companies a deadline to reformulate the drinks voluntarily or take them off the market.
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