The campaign for energy drinks has been a successful one, targeted to younger consumers, specifically teenagers, with promises of increased mental and physical benefits. Yet, energy drink promises of increased mental acuity and physical stamina are being overshadowed with reports of serious injuries and deaths.
Now, the mother of a teenaged boy who died from cardiac arrhythmia in 2012 has brought a lawsuit alleging that her son’s death was caused by his habit of drinking Monster Beverage Corp.’s energy drink, according to the Associated Press (AP). The boy, Alex Morris, who was 19 years old at the time of his death, suffered cardiac arrest on July 1. Alex was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
The lawsuit alleges that Alex would not have died if he had not engaged in the habit of drinking two cans of Monster’s energy drink daily for the three years before he died and on the day of his death, according to the AP. Alex’s mother, Paula Morris, is listed as a plaintiff in the case.
Last year, the family of Anais Fournier, who was 14 years old when she died, sued Monster after the girl consumed two 24-ounce cans of Monster and died. Both lawsuits allege the deaths were caused by the energy drinks and that the defendants neglected to warn of the dangers associated with the beverages, the AP wrote. Monster maintains that, in Fournier’s case, blood tests were not performed to confirm that Anais died of “caffeine toxicity,” which is what the lawsuit alleged. Rather, Monster claimed that Anais died of natural causes, a result of pre-existing conditions, according to the AP.
The popular energy drinks are promoted as being different than simply over-caffeinated brews with promises such as “Red Bull gives you wings,” or that Rockstar Energy is “scientifically formulated,” or that Monster Energy is a “killer energy brew,” The New York Times previously noted. Meanwhile, research on energy drinks has long been lacking with minimal human studies of the drinks and their ingredients. What has been seen is that the drinks are generally about the caffeine, say researchers, according to the Times. “These are caffeine delivery systems,” Dr. Roland Griffiths, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied energy drinks, previously told the Times.
Energy drink makers tout proprietary blends and claims that stimulants, such as guarana and taurine, provide an array of benefits. As we’ve written, guarana and taurine are additives that claim to be all natural and, like other additives found in supplements, are not subject to U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulation. There is not much credible data to show these products and their ingredients are safe for human consumption or what levels are considered safe. And, while energy drink labels claim the products do not contain more caffeine than a typical cup of coffee, with no appropriate regulations, there is insufficient available evidence to validate those claims.
Consider that a 12-ounce soda usually contains about 71 milligrams of caffeine, which the FDA considers safe. Meanwhile, caffeine in energy drinks typically ranges from 160 to 500 milligrams per serving, according to an FDA letter last August, written in response to Senator Durbin’s request for increased regulation of the products, according to a prior Bloomberg.com report.
We recently wrote that the FDA posted information on 21 reports it has received since 2004 regarding the energy drink, Red Bull. Some reports mentioned hospitalizations for cardiac issues and vomiting. The FDA also recently confirmed or released information on 18 filings involving deaths and over 150 other filings involving injuries that mentioned one of four popular energy drinks: Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar, and 5-Hour Energy, said a prior report by the Times. Yet, a federal report revealed that over 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 all mentioned an energy drink as a possible culprit.
Based on FDA records and a prior interview between an agency official and the Times, 13 other deaths in the past four years may be related to the 5-Hour Energy drink. Unlike other energy drinks packaged as traditional beverages, the 5-Hour Energy drink is a super-caffeinated, 2-ounce “energy shot.” The Times previously noted that, since 2009, 5-Hour Energy was discussed in about 90 FDA filings, including more than 30 reports that involved significant or life-threatening injuries, such as heart attacks and convulsions. A spontaneous abortion was involved one case. A review of a summary of agency records made by the media outlet revealed that, in October 2012, the FDA received five filings concerning deaths associated with Monster Energy.