FDA Questions Safety of Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

FRIDAY Nov. 13, 2009 -- Federal health officials said Friday that they plan to look into the safety and legality of making and selling popular alcohol drinks that contain caffeine.

Prompted by a request from several states' attorneys general, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given 30 manufacturers of such drinks 30 days to show the agency why their products are safe and under what authority they think they can sell those products.

"The agency has asked manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to provide FDA with the data necessary to demonstrate that caffeine can be safely and lawfully added to alcoholic beverages," FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said during a morning teleconference.

"The agency is not aware of the basis upon which manufacturers have concluded that the use of caffeine added to alcoholic beverages is 'generally recognized as safe,'" he added.

These high-octane drinks are popular on college campuses, with previous research suggesting up to 26 percent of students consume the beverages, according to an FDA news release.

Currently, the FDA has approved caffeine only as an addition to soft drinks, Sharfstein noted. The U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau oversees the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, but that agency only requires that alcoholic beverages contain ingredients that satisfy FDA requirements, the FDA news release noted.

Concerns about these drinks was raised after companies such as Miller and Anheuser-Busch began selling such products, drinks that were graced with names that included "Spykes" and "Sparks." Attorneys general in several states sued the companies, and last year both companies agreed to stop selling these products, Sharfstein said.

The letter from the attorneys general to the FDA was spearhead by the state of Connecticut, Utah and Guam and signed by 16 others, Sharfstein said.

Quoting from the letter, he said that "the consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages has been associated with increased risk of serious injury to oneself and others as a result of driving while intoxicated, sexual assault and other dangerous behavior."

The concern is that caffeine stimulates people to drink more, Sharfstein said.

"Being wide awake and drunk at the same time increases the risk of engaging in several forms of violent or other high-risk physical behaviors that can cause injury," he said, quoting the letter from the attorneys general.

Companies receiving FDA's letter include United Brands of Los Angeles, the maker of "Joose," which combines malt liquor with caffeine, and Mix Master Beverage Co. of Stateline, Nev., which makes a product called "24/7," Sharfstein said.

More information

For more on food additives, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Posted: November 2009


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