FDA Investigates Monster Energy Drink’s Link to 5 Deaths

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Monday they were investigating reports of five deaths over the past five years, as well as one non-fatal heart attack, that may be linked to consumption of Monster Energy drinks.

According to the reports, people have had adverse reactions following the consumption of the popular “energy” drink, which contains 240 milligrams of caffeine – seven times the amount of caffeine contained in a 12 ounce cola. The energy drink is sold in 24-ounce cans.

Last week, the parents of a 14-year-old girl filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage in California Supreme Court for negligence and wrongful death. The lawsuit charges that the victim went into cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce cans of the company’s Monster Energy drinks on consecutive days. It also alleges that Monster Beverages failed to warn about the product’s dangers.

Judy Lin Sfetcu, a spokeswoman for Monster Beverage, a publicly traded company in Corona, California, said last week that its products were safe and not the cause of the teenager’s death. She added that Monster was “unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been caused by its drinks.” The company said that it intends to vigorously defend itself in the case.

In the lawsuit filed last week, the parents of the victim said their daughter had consumed two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks in a 24-hour period in December. A few hours after drinking the second can of Monster, the girl went into cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness, according to the suit.

The lawsuit filed last week on behalf of the teenager referred to autopsy and medical examiner reports that said she had died of “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” that had exacerbated an existing heart problem. The report also showed that the teen had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which can affect the body’s connective tissue, including blood vessels.

The victim was aware that she was born with a common heart ailment, known as mitral valve prolapse. However, doctors told her this diagnosis should not in any way affect her ability to carry on a normal life with no restriction of physical activities or caffeine use.

Two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy drink contain 480 milligrams of caffeine, as much as drinking 14 sodas. That is approximately five times what pediatricians say a child of her age should consume.

The victim’s family alleges that Monster failed to warn consumers about the potential risks related to its energy drinks.

Some lawmakers and consumer advocates are calling for tougher regulation of energy drinks sold by Monster, Red Bull and beverage giants such as Coca Cola and Pepsi Co Inc. These highly caffeinated, sometimes sugar-laden drinks, (including 5-Hour Energy shots and Rockstar drinks) have become popular pick-me-ups for a wide range of consumers, especially young adults, and are heavily marketed as a way to boost energy, performance, focusing, studying, etc. The combination of too much caffeine and high amounts of sugar can cause big problems in kids. As though this is not dangerous enough, many young adults add alcohol to these energy drinks, which is potentially deadly.

Last year, sales of energy drinks grew almost 17 percent, according to Beverage Digest, an industry publication, with Monster leading the industry with 35 percent. As of the quarter ending June 30th, Monster’s net sales rose to $592.6 million, a 28 percent increase compared with the same period last year.

A federal report last year called energy drink consumption a rising public health concern because excessive use can cause medical and behavioral issues. As a matter of fact, emergency room visits related to energy drink consumption jumped from 1,128 in 2005 to 13,114 in 2009, as reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (More recent data is unavailable).

Dr. N. Goldberg of New York University Hospital stated that there is a direct line connecting toxic levels of caffeine and dangerous heart arrhythmias. She said, “toxic levels of caffeine cause chaotic heart arrhythmias, abdominal pain, severe cramping and tremors.”

In July, the attorney general in New York State issued subpoenas to three energy drink makers, Monster, Pepsi Co and Living Essentials, seeking information on the companies’ marketing practices. PepsiCo manufactures the AMP energy drink and Living Essentials manufactures the 5-Hour Energy.

The FDA has authority to regulate caffeine levels in soft drinks; the limit in a 12-ounce soda is about 71 milligrams. Most energy drinks exceed those levels because they are labeled as dietary supplements. Critics are calling for energy drink makers to provide regulators with proof that the common additives in the drinks, such as guarana, taurine and ginseng, are safe when combined with other ingredients.

Monster Beverage’s stock declined 14 percent Monday, following The New York Times report about the FDA filings.

Do you think the energy drink makers should test their products before putting them on the market? Feel free to comment on this blog post. Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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