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U.S. Rep. Markey, others looking into energy drink safety

Following a string of health problems traced back to energy drinks, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and other congressmen have been leading a push against energy drink companies.

“The firms need to be clear about what they think their product is, what it contains, and what it can do,” Markey said.

A study released Thursday reported the number of emergency room visits due to energy drink consumption has doubled over the past four years.

The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported 20,000 hospital visits associated with energy-drink consumption in 2011 alone.

While the energy drink market has rapidly expanded in the past few years with more than 30 drinks now on the market, recent reports have accused certain brands of false marketing claims.

Monster Energy and 5-Hour Energy have been allegedly connected to multiple deaths.

In light of these accusations, a number of congressmen and senators have begun to press energy drink companies to release more information on the ingredients in their drinks, and to clarify their marketing claims.

Eben Burnham-Snyder, press secretary for Markey, said Markey is passionate about this topic.

“Rep. Markey has a long history investigating issues involving consumer protection,” he said. “The recent reports of injuries and deaths allegedly associated with the use of this new category of rapidly growing energy drink products prompted this most recent investigation.”

Markey, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal each sent letters to 14 companies, including Red Bull, Pepsi and Monster Energy.

Markey said unclear marketing is posing a public health risk.

“The broad claims made by these products and their blurred classification in the marketplace make it difficult for consumers — particularly young consumers — from making informed decisions about their consumption,” he said.

Blumenthal said recent trends in hospital visits have become too apparent to ignore.

“There is very clearly a lack of understanding about the health effects of energy drinks and their ingredients, especially on children and adolescents,” he said. “Energy drink makers are mistaken if they believe they have escaped regulatory oversight to safeguard consumer health.”

The letters sent contained a series of questions including one regarding whether the companies had ever done studies on the overall health risks their beverages could cause, and if they could accurately report the amount of caffeine each beverage contained.

The Food and Drug Administration has been investigating reports of five deaths that have allegedly resulted from consumption of Monster Energy, which is reported to have 14-times the amount of caffeine of a 12-ounce can of Coca Cola.

Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said the investigation is ongoing.

“As with any report the agency receives, we take them very seriously and investigate diligently,” she said.

Monster Energy was unavailable for comment by press time. The American Beverage Association released a statement in response to the recent allegations, claiming other factors that led to hospitalization could be in play.

“Forty-two percent of all incidences were by someone who had admitted to consuming alcohol or taking illegal substances or pharmaceuticals,” the release stated. “In addition, we know nothing about the overall health of these individuals, if they had consumed other caffeinated products, taken medications or accurately self-reported any of the
above. Without this information it’s impossible to understand the actual role — if any — of energy drinks in these hospital visits.”

The statement also denied the claim that many beverages were over-caffeinated.

“Despite the inaccurate information contained in this report, most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee,” the statement read.

Durbin said he was dissatisfied with the lack of specificity in the response.

“Energy drink companies can partner in our effort by being forthcoming about the ingredients in their products and the processes they use to determine those ingredients are safe,” he said.

Government investigations are still ongoing. The letters sent requested a reply to all questions by Feb. 1.

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