The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to four alcoholic energy drink manufacturers that their caffeinated drinks are unsafe.
The agency reached the conclusion after a yearlong investigation into the health effects of drinks manufactured by Phusion Projects, Charge Beverages, New Century Brewing Company, and United Brands Company.
“It is FDA's view that the caffeine content of your beverage could result in central nervous system effects if a consumer drank one or more containers of your product. Therefore, FDA believes that the consumption of your product may result in adverse behavioral outcomes because the caffeine is likely to counteract some, but not all, of the adverse effects of alcohol,” the warning letter to Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, states.
Four Loko and other caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks came under public scrutiny in October, when nine Central Washington University students were taken to the hospital after drinking the beverage. Cases of young adults dying from drinking Four Loko have also been reported.
Four Loko packs a major punch with 12 percent alcohol by volume – which is equal to drinking three to four beers – and the same amount of caffeine as a Starbucks coffee. Medical professionals contend the amount of caffeine in the drinks masks the effects of the alcohol on the drinker, so college students drink more, thinking they are not drunk.
Four states have banned the beverage, and distributors in New York and other states have voluntarily stopped selling the beverage.
"These products are designed, branded, and promoted to encourage binge drinking, and I commend the FDA for acting promptly to curb their sale. These drinks are especially unhealthy and dangerous because they combine alcohol and caffeine – and present a further concern when used by young people," said White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske. "Acting early to protect public health is critical and a vital component of the Obama Administration’s effort to reduce drug use and its consequences."
Recently two Florida parents filed suit against Phusion Projects in connection with their son’s death. Joe and Vicki Keiran say their 20-year-old son shot himself after drinking three or four cans of Four Loko and partying for 30 straight hours.
Phusion Projects announced Tuesday they would reformulate the beverage to remove the caffeine. However, the company’s co-founders still argue the combination of caffeine and alcohol is safe.
“We have repeatedly contended – and still believe, as do many people throughout the country – that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced,” co-founders Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright, and Jaisen Freeman said in a statement. “We are taking this step after trying – unsuccessfully – to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels.”
According to the founders, the drink must be safe or it would not have been approved by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Four Loko has been on store shelves since August 2008 and was distributed in 47 states since 2009.
Ben Terris contributed contributed to this article.