Feds expected to ban alcoholic 'energy drinks'




Posted on November 16, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 17 at 12:06 AM

Valeria Rodriguez, 14, was killed in a car wreck in Denton Sunday morning.

The tragic death of the high school freshman may help spur new federal regulations on alcoholic "energy" drinks.

News 8 has confirmed that the two boys in the car with Valeria were drinking the alcoholic energy beverage Four Loko.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to find that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic drinks like Four Loko — essentially banning them — and manufacturers will then be warned that marketing caffeinated alcoholic beverages could be illegal.

The FDA ruling, which could come as soon as this week, "should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has pushed the Obama administration to ban the beverages, said Tuesday. Federal regulators would not confirm Schumer's announcement that a ban was imminent.

With names like "Loko," "Maxed" and "Earthquake" and flavors that include grape, fruit punch and lemonade, this kind of drink packs a punch. A 24-ounce can is the equivalent of drinking four 12-ounce beers and a tall cup of coffee from Starbucks.

This drink is so popular among teenagers there is even a Four Loko Facebook page, where teens talk about their drunken state.

One local doctor cautions too much can lead to passing out and throwing up, and that can lead to dangerous health conditions.

"It gets you drunk quick, and it's sweet," said high school senior Gustavo Gonzalez.

Four Loko looks like an energy drink, but states clearly on the can that it is 12 percent alcohol.

What's not clear is how much caffeine is also added.

Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, the chief of toxicology for UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is concerned that teenagers will down one can too quickly and not realize the impact.

"one of those big cans to a little person can be very dangerously intoxicating," he said. "If that little person happens to go, 'Wow! Let's have a two-can day, I need a lot of energy,' now we are potentially moving into very dangerous — and possibly even life-threatening — levels."

Even 17-year-old Gustavo Gonzales, who stands 6'-3" tall, says one can made him feel drunk and sick.

"My stomach was feeling bad and I got a headache afterwards," he said. "It feels like you took two or three shots."

Four Loko is easy to find. News 8 purchased two cans at a gas station and two more at a convenience store. It is available in a variety of flavors.

Dr. Kleinschmidt is concerned. "I think most parents are probably not aware of this fruit-flavored energy drink that has caffeine," he said. "Most folks will go, 'Oh, not a big deal,' and they may not have heard the part how much alcohol is in it, so the parents and the kids both can walk into this blinded path and can have very bad consequences."

Dr. Kleinschmidt says don't be fooled by the bright colors and bold graphics of the packaging; Four Loko is not an energy drink.

The caffeine combined with an alcoholic beverage can delay the feeling of intoxication.

Dr. Kleinschmidt cautions that drinking too much of any alcoholic beverage can lead to alcohol poisoning, so educate your kids.

E-mail ddenmon@wfaa.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.