A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 19, 2013

Emergency Room Visits Tied to Energy Drinks Doubled In Past Four Years



The reality is, we are addicted to addiction. We want our fixes. There may be a huge subset of people who are spinning or vegan or cultishly embracing CrossFit but who has the time or money or attention span to keep it up?

So we go with the times-sensitive and affordable alternatives: excess energy in a bottle or can. It might be a fad or it might be a reasonably pragmatic response to the need to hold two jobs or the fear of losing one. Either way we understand the trade-offs.

Now, we might be placing more faith in the regulatory authorities than is warranted, given that our society and its elected representatives are pounding on them to lighten up so businesses can sell more of whatever's selling so that it might create more jobs in Austria or Bangladesh or someplace, but they will, eventually, get on the case, especially if a couple of people die. Stuff happens when you're pushing the envelope.

In any event, point taken. Gotta go. Later. JL

Associated Press reports:
A survey suggests the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled across the US during the past four years, in the same period in which the supercharged drink industry has surged in popularity in convenience stores, bars and on college campuses. "Five years ago, perhaps I would see one or two cases every three months or so. Now we're consistently seeing about two cases per month," said Steve Sun, assistant medical director of the emergency department at St Mary's Medical Center, on the edge of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

From 2007 to 2011, the US government estimates the number of emergency room visits involving the neon-labelled beverages shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000.

Most of the cases involved teens or young adults, according to the survey of the country's hospitals released late last week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

More than half of the patients considered in the survey told doctors they had consumed only energy drinks.

...In 2011, about 42 per cent of the cases involved energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs, such as the stimulants Adderall or Ritalin.

The beverage industry says energy drinks are safe and there is no proof linking the products to adverse reactions.

The report doesn't specify which symptoms brought people to the emergency room, but it calls energy drink consumption a "rising public health problem" that can cause insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures that are severe enough to require emergency care.

Several emergency physicians said they had seen a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.

"A lot of people don't realise the strength of these things. I had someone come in recently who had drunk three energy drinks in an hour, which is the equivalent of 15 cups of coffee," said Howard Mell, an emergency physician in the suburbs of Cleveland, who serves as a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

"Essentially he gave himself a stress test and thankfully he passed. But if he had a weak heart or suffered from coronary disease and didn't know it, this could have precipitated very bad things."

The findings came as concerns over energy drinks have intensified following reports last fall of 18 deaths possibly tied to the drinks and so-called energy shots - including a 14-year-old Maryland girl whose family filed a lawsuit after she drank two large cans of Monster Energy drinks and died.

Monster says its products were not responsible for the death.

Two US senators are calling for the Food and Drug Administration to investigate safety concerns about energy drinks and their ingredients.

Late last year, the FDA asked the US Health and Human Services to update the figures its substance abuse research arm compiles about emergency room visits tied to energy drinks.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's survey was based on responses it receives from about 230 hospitals each year, a representative sample of about 5 per cent of emergency departments across the country.

The agency then uses those responses to estimate the number of energy drink-related emergency department visits in the US.

The more than 20,000 cases estimated for 2011 represent a small portion of the annual 136 million emergency room visits tracked by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA said it was considering the findings and pressing for more details as it undertakes a broad review of the safety of energy drinks and related ingredients this year.


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