November 17, 2010
Lawmakers Target Deadly Energy Drink
They call it "liquid cocaine" and "blackout in a can."
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And, after word spread this week that Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic energy drink, might soon be off store shelves in New York State, high-school and college aged teens were lamenting the possible dearth of the popular party staple.
"RIP Four Loko," wrote one local teen on a Facebook page. "I don't remember the nights I shared with you but I'm sure they were good ones."
Other teens promised friends online that they'd stock up on Four Loko – thousands flooded Facebook sites dedicated to the drink, some waxing fondly about the "blackout" nights they'd experienced while under the influence.
Four Loko, marketed by Phusion Products, is an alcoholic energy drink sold in brightly colored, 24-ounce cans with alcohol by volume of 12 percent. That, say experts, is the same alcohol content of wine, but a standard serving of wine is four ounces. Drinking one AED such as Four Loko is equivalent to consuming almost an entire six-pack of beer, along with large doses of caffeine and sugar, as well as other stimulants such as guarana, taurine, or ginseng in high levels.
Because there is no nutritional label on a Four Loko can, it is impossible to judge exactly how much caffeine and alcohol is being ingested -- and most young adults don't stop at one. Four Loco is marketed to young adults: the brightly colored cans, fruity flavors, and "dirt cheap" prices – most cans sell for under four dollars – make it an attractive party drink. And, despite the fact that consumers must show identification, teens are finding ways to stock up.
The product is especially dangerous because when an individual mixes alcohol, a depressant, and caffeine, a stimulant, there is a "speedball" effect – and can lead to life-threatening lapses in judgment.
This week, New York State Governor David A. Paterson and State Liquor Authority Chairman Dennis Rosen announced a voluntary agreement with Four Loko producer Phusion Products to stop shipping alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants to New York State by Friday.
Phusion Products has also agreed to fund alcohol awareness programs to educate licensees and consumers about the dangers of binge drinking.
"New Yorkers deserve to know that the beverages they buy are safe for consumption," said Paterson.
New York's largest beer distributors have voluntarily agreed to stop selling malt beverages containing caffeine and other stimulants; they will immediately stop placing orders for the alcoholic energy drinks and will be given until December 10 to clear the products from their inventories. Retailers will be given additional time to sell remaining stock.
New York State Senator Charles Schumer has called on New York State to immediately ban sales of dangerous caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including Four Loko.
Schumer told the SLA that because the FDA has never approved the beverages, the agency has the authority to impose the ban.
Other states, including Michigan and Oklahomoa, have put the brakes on the sale of AEDs. Universities and high schools have become proactive in both banning the products and educating students.
Schumer has appeared with Jaqueline Celestino, whose 18 year-old Long Island granddaughter went into cardiac arrest and died after drinking Four Loko.
Caffeinated energy drinks have made headlines nationwide, sending six students at Ramapo College in New Jersey and nine from Central Washington University to the hospital. Studies indicate that young people who mix alcohol and caffeine may not feel the effects of intoxication -- but are more likely to suffer injury, become a victim of sexual assault, drive while intoxicated, and require medical attention.
"Four Loko, and drinks like it, are a toxic, dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol, and they are spreading like a plague across the country," said Schumer.
Young people are especially at risk – their hearts, still developing, can be affected. The drinks can also cause liver damage and blood alcohol poisoning.
Schools are increasing drug and alcohol prevention outreach. The Westhampton Beach Union Free District recently hired a part-time social worker/substance abuse counselor. Dr. Richard Boyes of the Southampton School district said while Four Loco has "been a low profile thing," with no difficulties reported related to the drink, whether in schools or area hospitals, "that's not to say there haven't been students using it. But it hasn't risen to the level where we feel we have a problem to address." The district does an ongoing series of presentations on substance abuse. "We're very aware of it."
The lethal energy drinks were also a topic of conversation at recent panel discussions held in Suffolk County to gather information on substance abuse for the New York State legislature.
Nancy Lynott, director of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau, said conversations have been conducted with area teens who "are surprised" when they learn about the alcohol and caffeine content of AEDs. "The danger is the drinks are being marketed to young people without educating them about what's in them."
Felicia Scocozza, executive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program, said if one can of Four Loco equates to four to six servings of wine or beer, "that's a binge drinking episode in one can." Riverhead CAP is doing public awareness outreach on Facebook.
Kym Laube, director of the Human Understanding and Growth seminars in Westhampton Beach and Shelter Island said parents need to educate their kids. Four Loco is not the only culprit; products such as Joose and others have an over 11 percent alcohol content. "Years ago we fought cocaine in a can. There is always going to be alarm, and people saying 'Oh my God, I can't believe they get away with selling this product.' Unfortunately, it takes kids dying before they say maybe we should pull this off the shelves."
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