FDA Cracks Down on Alcohol-Caffeine Combo Drinks

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The FDA has sent a letter to 30 companies warning that it hasn’t approved beverages containing both caffeine and alcohol, and that it intends to begin removing such products from store shelves in 30 days if the companies can’t explain why such products are safe and legal.

The FDA has sent a letter to 30 companies warning that it hasn’t approved beverages containing both caffeine and alcohol, and that it intends to begin removing such products from store shelves in 30 days if the companies can’t explain why such products are safe and legal.

The letter cited research showing that the combo drinks increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents and sexual assaults.

In one such study, Mary Claire O'Brien, of Wake Forest University, found that nearly one-quarter of all college students claimed to have consumed such beverages in the last month alone.

O’Brien found that students who consumed alcohol-laced energy drinks were 70% more likely to be taken advantage of sexually (6.4% vs. 3.7%) and more than twice as likely (3.7% vs. 1.7%) to have taken sexual advantage of someone than students who drank alcohol alone.

O’Brien reported similarly appalling statistics for riding with a driver that had been drinking (38.9% vs. 22.5%), being hurt or injured (12.3% vs. 5.9%), and requiring medical treatment (2.6% vs. 1.2%).

Last year, state authorities persuaded Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors to remove their combo drinks, known as Bud Extra, Tilt, and Sparks from the market. But at least 30 smaller companies still market the drinks, which contain roughly the same dose of caffeine as a large cup of Joe and nearly 10% alcohol. The provocatively-named beverages include Max Vibe, Moon Shot, and Slingshot Party Gel.

In its press release on the matter, the FDA cited regulations that deem all substances added to food or alcoholic beverages as unsafe unless their "particular use has been approved by the FDA, or (they are) ‘Generally Recognized As Safe.’"

In a press conference explaining the FDA’s move, Joshua Sharfstein, the agency's principal deputy commissioner, explained that the "FDA is not aware of the basis on which these manufacturers have concluded that caffeine added to alcoholic beverages is, quote, ‘Generally Recognized As Safe.’"

Sharfstein acknowledged that an FDA ban of the combo drinks will not prevent people from creating unsavory cocktails on their own, as they currently do with Red Bull and vodka, or the decidedly old-school rum and Coke.

In that circumstance, Sharfstein concluded, "we will have to think about things not just from a regulatory perspective but what the overall public health message and approach is."

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