Are 'Energy' Drinks Threatening Our Kids?
Researchers are calling for warning labels and other steps to curb the abuse of those wildly popular high-caffeine "energy drinks."
Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University and 98 other experts sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration this week saying they had become increasingly alarmed about Red Bull and similar caffeine-laced beverages.
The researchers cited a paper Griffiths and his colleagues recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which noted that Americans are already spending billions on such drinks annually. Hundreds of new products are being introduced each year and sales are increasing rapidly. The advertising campaigns tend to target teens and young adults, especially young males, and, Griffiths and his colleagues say, appear to glorify illicit drug use.
In addition to other ingredients, the products contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine per can or bottle. To put that into perspective, a regular 12-ounce can of cola has about 35 milligrams of caffeine and a six-ounce cup of coffee has between about 77 and 150 milligrams.
The researchers are worried about all sorts of problems. Too much caffeine can lead to "caffeine intoxication," which can cause nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach problems and even rapid heartbeats and death in rare cases. The scope of the problem is unclear. But at least 41 such cases related to energy drinks were reported to poison control centers between 2002 and 2004 alone, the researchers noted. And that's probably just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition, research indicates that young people tend to mix these drinks with alcohol and those that do are more likely to take advantage of or be taken advantage of by another student sexually, ride in a car with a drunk driver or be hurt or injured. And that's not all. There's mounting evidence that young people who use these drinks are much more likely to go on to use prescription stimulants, raising concern they serve as a "gateway" to more serious drug abuse. There's even an energy drink additive called "Blow" which resembles cocaine powder and is sold in vials with a mirror and plastic cards, as well as another one called "Cocaine."
The researchers noted that Canada and many European countries require these drinks to carry labels warning about their high caffeine content and cautioning against mixing them with alcohol. Some ban certain products altogether.
In contrast, in the United States energy drinks are virtually unregulated. No labeling is required. They don't even have to list how much caffeine they contain, even though they may have a lot more than over-the-counter stimulants like NoDoz, which are required to carry warnings.
Griffiths and his colleagues think that at the very least these products should be labeled and carry warnings. But they'd also like to see restrictions on advertising and aggressive marketing, especially to young people.
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