A 14-year-old Maryland girl died in December from a heart arrhythmia after drinking large cans of Monster Energy drink on two consecutive days. According to autopsy and medical examiner reports, the young girl died of “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” that had exacerbated an existing heart problem.
Her mother has filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverages alleging that Monster failed to warn about the risks of its energy drinks. The 24-ounce can of Monster Energy the teenager drank contains 240 milligrams of caffeine, three times the amount found in an 8-ounce can of Red Bull and about 50 milligrams more than in the 20-ounce size of Red Bull. According to the lawsuit, Monster doesn’t list the amount of caffeine in the drink.
In recent interviews, an FDA spokesperson has acknowledged that the agency has received reports of five deaths possibly linked to the drink as well as another report of a heart attack. The reports cover a period of 2004 to June of this year. The number of reports that the FDA receives about any product it regulates usually understates by a large degree the actual number of problems. The FDA says it is still looking into the cases and has yet to establish a causal link between the deaths and the drink.
Monster Energy is among numerous other so-called “energy drinks” like Red Bull and Rock Star, and energy “shots” like 5-hour Energy, that companies are aggressively marketing to teenagers and young people. Under current FDA rules, companies do not need to disclose caffeine levels in their beverages and can choose to market them as drinks or as dietary supplements. Those various regulatory categories have differing labeling and ingredient rules.
While healthy adults can consume large quantities of caffeine from sources like coffee, tea and energy drinks, the drug, which acts as a stimulant, can pose risks to those with underlying conditions like heart disorders.
Emergency room visits involving energy drinks increased to 13,114 in 2009, with about half those trips made by patients 18 to 25 years old and also involving drugs or alcohol, according to a November report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The event reports linked to Monster claimed that some of the life-threatening illnesses were characterized by heart attack, chest pain and vomiting.
“Soda” typically can have as many as 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounces for the FDA to consider it safe. The FDA may require companies to prove caffeine levels are safe if they exceed the guideline.
However, caffeine in energy drinks often ranges from 160 milligrams to 500 milligrams a serving, according to the FDA. Monster and competitors such as Red Bull aren’t bound by the FDA guidelines for caffeine in sodas, because energy drinks are often sold as “dietary supplements.”
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