5-Hour Energy drink may have led to 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations

by Michael Heygood

Investigations are underway by The FDA and the New York Attorney General’s office following claims that the drink 5-Hour Energy may have led to 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations over the past four years.

5-Hour Energy has been mentioned in some 90 reports filed with the FDA since 2009. The filings include reports of heart attacks, convulsions and, in one case, a spontaneous abortion. Another federal agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported late last year that more than 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 were associated with energy drinks alone.

The FDA requires soda manufacturers to list the amount of caffeine in their beverages if they exceed .02 percent. However, makers of 5-Hour Energy and similar products can circumvent the federal caffeine labeling requirement simply by marketing their products as “energy drinks” or “dietary supplements” rather than as sodas, soft drinks, or colas.

5-Hour Energy is marketed as a “supplement” and is therefore not by the FDA as a “food” or a “drug.” Because FDA regulations do not require “supplement” ingredients to be listed, the ingredients in such energy drinks are not fully identified. However, along with caffeine, it is known that 5-Hour Energy contains very high levels of certain B vitamins and a substance called taurine.

Although the drinks may be safe for healthy adults when consumed in moderation, critics of energy drinks are concerned about the dangers posed to those with underlying heart problems, especially children.

Last month, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) started an effort to make the FDA close the loopholes that allow potentially dangerous drinks on to the market. Senators Durbin and Blumenthal believe these beverages are addictive due to the high amount of caffeine they reportedly contain. The senators issued a letter citing a Consumer Reports study which claims certain energy drinks contain much more caffeine than the packaging claims.

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by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.