Public Health

Alcohol Plus Caffeine Equals FDA Action

Alcohol-laced energy drinks get you drunk and keep you awake at the same time. Today the Food and Drug Administration is asking manufacturers of the beverages for proof that they're safe.

MillerCoors removed caffeine from their product, Sparks, in 2008 when a lawsuit was threatened. i

MillerCoors removed caffeine from their product, Sparks, in 2008 when a lawsuit was threatened. Reed Saxon/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Reed Saxon/AP
MillerCoors removed caffeine from their product, Sparks, in 2008 when a lawsuit was threatened.

MillerCoors removed caffeine from their product, Sparks, in 2008 when a lawsuit was threatened.

Reed Saxon/AP

These combo drinks have been manufactured by companies big and small for the last couple years, and are increasingly a drink of choice among college students. A quarter of college drinkers are reaching for these alcohol and caffeine drinks when they party, according to research done by Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Why? So they can stay up longer and drink more, leading to dangerous ends, she says.

Students who mix caffeine and alcohol put themselves at higher risk for injury and other alcohol-related consequences, compared to students who drink alcohol without the added caffeine, according to O'Brien's research.

The research has raised eyebrows with attorneys general and other lawmakers, especially when several state attorneys general succeeded last year in getting big-beer manufacturers Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors to pull the caffeine from their popular drinks Sparks and Tilt.

While their products have disappeared, though, others have cropped up to fill the gap. The FDA is asking nearly 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to provide "scientific evidence," that their products are safe within 30 days.

According to FDA these drinks fall under a guideline that even though caffeine has already been approved, it's illegal to use in a way that hasn't been specifically approved, like mixing caffeine with alcohol. Calls to several of the companies by NPR were not returned Friday.

Once the manufacturers respond, FDA will review the evidence and decide whether or not the drinks can stay on the market.

For more buzz on the FDA action, listen to Joseph Shapiro's report on today's All Things Considered.

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