Esteemed Physicians Send FDA a Letter Stating Serious Risks of Energy Drinks

March 28, 2013

128678_energy_drink.jpgA March 2013 letter, signed by 18 of the nation's top doctors, is urging the FDA to re-evaluate the current standards of regulation for energy drinks and other beverages with added caffeine. Dangerous substance lawyers at Pintas & Mullins commend the work of these doctors, who are speaking out against the unsafe practices of energy drink companies.

Among the signatory physicians included directors and professors at Johns Hopkins University, UC-Berkeley, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to name only a few. The letter illuminated the public concern over the reports of ER visits, injuries, health complications and deaths associated with energy drink consumption, intending to summarize the scientific and medical evidence surrounding this issue.

The letter specifically cites the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) designation, which requires companies to prove that food additives in its products are considered safe by experts in order to gain exemption from the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act standards. Since caffeine qualified for a GRAS exemption, energy drinks were not subject to premarket approval.

For sodas, the FDA established about 71 mg per 12 fl oz caffeine as GRAS. Monster Energy, for example, contains between 160 and 240 mg of caffeine per can, and most energy drinks contain about 100 mg of caffeine per 8 fl oz. Some 8 oz cans even contain up to 300 mg of caffeine. Further aggravating the dangers, many manufacturers now sell their products in 16 and 24 oz cans.

The energy drink industry repeatedly claims that its drinks contain no more caffeine than the average cup of coffee; however, physicians are quick to refute this, stating that the caffeine content differs in three significant ways. First, that caffeine in coffee is natural, occurring from the bean, whereas the caffeine in energy drinks is artificially added. Second, most energy drinks in fact exceed the caffeine concentration of even the strongest cup of coffee. Lastly, coffee is consumed slowly, by sipping; energy drinks, on the other hand, are sweetened, served cold, and typically consumed much more rapidly.

The doctors go on to demonstrate how the marketing campaigns for these drinks even encourage consumers to chug, or ingest large quantities of the product in short amount of time. Again unlike coffee, energy drinks are marketed specifically to younger audiences, exploiting the risk-taking tendencies of adolescents. A 2010 study - commissioned by the FDA - found that 65% of energy drink consumers are between ages 13 and 15. An even more recent study reported that 30 to 50% of young adults and adolescents regularly consume energy drinks.

To date, at least 13 deaths have been linked to use of 5-Hour Energy, and five deaths with Monster. Unfortunately, the majority of these deaths occurred in youths, as young individuals have greater sensitivity to caffeine. After consuming two 24-oz Monster Energy products within two days, a 14-year-old girl died of caffeine-induced cardiac arrhythmia. Her parents are now pursuing a wrongful death case. According to FDA reports, there have also been at least 21 claims of adverse reactions associated with Red Bull, although these reports are likely to be significantly underestimated, as the FDA only receives reports submitted voluntarily.

In 2011, the number of people admitted to emergency departments peaked at more than 20,000. A high amount of caffeine is associated with elevated blood pressure, severe cardiac events, seizures, caffeine intoxication, and altered heart rates. Numerous studies also associated energy drink consumption as a contributing factor to youth obesity, due to the high calorie and sugar contents. One 24-oz can of Monster, for example, contains 6.75 tablespoons of sugar.

Monster Energy is now facing a class-action lawsuit, which alleges that the company knowingly marketed, advertised and sold the drink, specifically to teens and pre-teens, as a safe beverage despite its toxic mix of ingredients. Consuming large amounts of caffeine, in addition to other Monster ingredients (sugar, guarana, taurine, etc) can have devastating consequences to human health, which Monster never warned consumers about. The class-action lawsuit is also including claims of unjust enrichment.

Energy drink lawyers at Pintas & Mullins urge American consumers, especially those who regularly consumer energy drinks, to review the physician's letter, which can be found here. If you or a loved one was seriously harmed by an energy beverage, you may be eligible for compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.