NPR logo FDA Places Alcohol-Caffeine Drinks Under Scrutiny

FDA Places Alcohol-Caffeine Drinks Under Scrutiny

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Many college students have become fond of alcoholic drinks spiked with caffeine and the Food and Drug Administration is worried about this trend since experts are concerned that the added caffeine can make those who consume these drinks believe they aren't as alcohol-impaired as they actually are.

The FDA on Friday notified almost 30 makers of these beverages that it planned to examine the safety and legality of their products.

From an FDA statement:

"The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs.

Of the combined use of caffeine and alcohol among U.S. college students in the few studies on this topic, the prevalence was as high as 26 percent.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a substance added intentionally to food (such as caffeine in alcoholic beverages) is deemed "unsafe" and is unlawful unless its particular use has been approved by FDA regulation, the substance is subject to a prior sanction, or the substance is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). FDA has not approved the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages and thus such beverages can be lawfully marketed only if their use is subject to a prior sanction or is GRAS. For a substance to be GRAS, there must be evidence of its safety at the levels used and a basis to conclude that this evidence is generally known and accepted by qualified experts.

The FDA alerted manufacturers to the fact that the agency is considering whether caffeine can lawfully be added to alcoholic beverages. The FDA noted that it is unaware of the basis upon which manufacturers may have concluded that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is GRAS or prior sanctioned. To date, the FDA has only approved caffeine as an additive for use in soft drinks in concentrations of no greater than 200 parts per million. It has not approved caffeine for use at any level in alcoholic beverages.

Among the companies the FDA letters to: City Brewing of La Crosse, Wisc. which makes Hard Wired and 24/7; Gaamm Imports Inc., of Deerfield Beach, Fla. which makes Booya Espresso Silver Tequila and Caffeine, and United Brands Co., maker of Joose, Max Vibe, Max Fury, Max Live and 3Sum.

As the FDA says in its statement, Anheuser-Busch and Miller have stopped making their caffeinated alcoholic drinks, Tilt, Bud Extra and Sparks and have foresworn the products going forward.

Nearly 20 states attorney generals wrote to the FDA in September asking the agency to scrutinize alcoholic drinks with added caffeine.