A group of lawmakers is asking probing questions of energy drink manufacturers about why their products should be considered safe and why they qualify as dietary supplements, as opposed to traditional beverages that are regulated under the purview of the FDA.
The letters were sent by U.S. Representatives Edward J. Markey, Richard J. Durbin, and Richard Blumenthal on January 17, to the makers of Monster Energy, Rockstar, Red Bull, 5 Hour Energy and other manufacturers of beverages that combine high levels of caffeine with other stimulants.
Manufacturers have been asked to reply to the letter by February 1, to assist in the FDA’s ongoing investigation into the potential safety concerns with energy drinks.
“The blurred distinction between supplements and conventional foods or beverages combined with recent published reports by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and FDA regarding consumption of energy drinks has led to significant consumer confusion and concern about the safety and use of these products,” the letter states. “One of the major concerns surrounding energy drinks is the potential health risks for children who consume these products. Furthermore, questions have been raised about the combination of high levels of caffeine with other stimulant ingredients.”
The letter asks whether the manufacturers consider their products conventional food and beverages or dietary supplements and why. It asks about the representation of nutritional information, the amount of caffeine and recommended serving sizes. It also asks about other stimulants in the products and whether they are listed as ingredients and their quantities, and whether their products are specifically marketed to children.
Increased Scrutiny of Energy Drink Industry
The letter comes amidst increase scrutiny of the energy drink industry after the death of a 14-year-old girl, who died after drinking two cans of Monster in a 24-hour period. Her parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp., alleging that the manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the health risks and negligently promoted high consumption of the drinks among children.
Earlier this month, a report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which is part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, indicated that the growing number of emergency room visits and other health problems linked to Monster, Rockstar, Red Bull and other energy drinks pose a rising public health concern. According to the report, the number of energy drink-related emergency room visits in the United States doubled between 2007 and 2011.
A report published late last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that most energy drink products contain four times the amount of caffeine as is found in a can of Coca-Cola on an ounce-for-ounce basis. The report warned that potential energy drink health risks include an increased heart rate, irregular heart beats, sleep disturbances, diuresis, hyperglycemia and other problems.
Prior research has suggested that caffeine overdose can result in heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias and death after doses ranging from 200 to 400 milligrams, and many energy drink products contain over 200 milligrams in each can.
According to information released in recent weeks by the FDA, there have been at least four deaths linked to Monster Energy Drinks and 13 deaths linked to 5 Hour Energy Shots. In addition, side effects of Rockstar Energy Drinks have been cited in at least 13 non-fatal adverse event reports submitted to the FDA in recent years.