Energy Drinks and Powdered Caffeine under Heavy Scrutiny Following Tragic Deaths
By Nathan D. Williams , Staff Writer
Caffeine – it’s a vital part of just about everyone’s day. All you need to confirm this is to drive by a Starbucks early in the morning. In fact, more than 100 million Americans drink coffee each and every day.
Most consider caffeine to be a “safe” drug, but it can be dangerous and lead to all sorts of side effects if taken in high enough quantities. Minor symptoms of caffeine overdose can include headache, diarrhea, fever and irritability, while more severe symptoms can include vomiting, chest pains, trouble breathing and convulsions.
Caffeine overdose can be fatal
While seemingly innocent, energy drinks like Red Bull or Monster deliver much higher amounts of caffeine than soda, tea or coffee. In fact, a 2012 Consumer Reports study explains that an average energy drink has up to 242 milligrams of caffeine per serving. An 8-ounce cup of coffee on the other hand only contains 100 milligrams.
Caffeine powders are another source of concern for fatal overdosing, primarily due to their concentration since one teaspoon equals roughly 50 Red Bull energy drinks. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, powdered caffeine is the most dangerous dietary supplement currently on the market.
Although adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, kids should only consume 45-85 milligrams per day depending on their weight. The fact that energy drinks and caffeine powders deliver such a high dose at once is a key concern among parents, advocacy groups and the FDA.
Consumers not warned about dangers
One high profile case involves 14-year old Anais Fournier. Anais consumed two energy drinks in two days before going into cardiac arrest. Her death certificate listed “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” as the cause. Cardiac arrest is the primary fatal side effect of caffeine overdose.
Anais’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Monster Energy. The case is expected to go to trial soon.
Caffeine powders have also been the source of tragic fatalities, including 24-year old Wade Sweatt in June of 2014. Another young adult, 18-year old Logan Stiner, died from a caffeine overdose a month earlier. Both men were looking for an energy boost to try and improve endurance.
Following Logan’s tragic death, his parents filed lawsuits against the friend who gave him the powder, plus Amazon.com (retailer) and several companies in Arizona responsible for manufacturing and marketing the powder.
Besides these lawsuits, the Food & Drug Administration issued an advisory in July 2014 urging consumers to avoid the products. More recently, the agency sent letters to 5 producers of powdered caffeine citing they are “…dangerous and present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers.”
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA), along with consumer groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are urging the FDA to issue an outright ban on caffeine powder.
Since it is classified as a “dietary supplement,” regulation is very loose and nonexistent for the most part. Caffeine powders are generally not available in stores but can be ordered online.
Again, while caffeine may seem like a harmless way to get you going in the morning, it can be fatal if taken in high enough doses, which is why you should exercise extreme caution when using energy drinks or powdered caffeine.