|November 15, 2012
You know those little vials of who-knows-what that TV bills as a healthier alternative to energy drinks? Turns out they might make you die. Or to be more specific, the flavored energy shot "has been mentioned in some 90 filings with the F.D.A., including more than 30 that involved serious or life-threatening injuries like heart attacks, convulsions and, in one case, a spontaneous abortion," according to a New York Times investigation.
Don't worry, 5-Hour Energy fans, Monster Energy drink is a culprit, too. Following a review of FDA records, The Times found that 5-Hour Energy was implicated in at least 13 deaths over the last four years, while Monster was cited in five deaths in a review last month. Both the paper and the FDA are careful to point out that correlation does not equal causation in these horrifying examples of pick-me-ups gone wrong. Nevertheless, we're pretty sure coffee will remain our stimulant of choice for the foreseeable future.
The scariest thing about the Times report isn't necessarily the threat of heart attack or spontaneous abortion. It's the fact that nobody really knows what's going on with energy drinks -- or in 5-Hour Energy's case "dietary supplements" -- that become implicated in fatalities. Even scarier, is that the companies making these potions know that it's happening. They're required by federal law to report cases that link their products to fatalities to the FDA. They don't want to talk about it either. "I am not interested in making any comment," Manoj Bhargava, the chief executive of Living Essentials, the company that makes 5-Hour Energy. (Go ahead and let the irony of that company name sink in.)
We're immediately reminded of the Four Loko debacle from a couple of years back. In case you forgot, some brilliant product team decided that it would be a good idea to take all of the ingredients in your standard energy drink -- caffeine, taurine, B vitamins -- and mix it with high proof malt liquor and sell it for about two bucks a can. Fast forward a few months later, and people were dead after drinking the stuff, a horrible turn of events that eventually caused the government to ban the formula. It was eventually re-released without all of the energy additives. Fast forward a few more months later, and America figured out a way to bring back to old upper-downer specialty cocktail. Just drop a 5-Hour Energy into a can of Four Loko and BOOM! You've got yourself an evening of fun. Or heart attacks.
So maybe 5-Hour Energy is the cause of those grizzly sounding deaths, and maybe it isn't. Either way, we've seen this chain of events before. Somebody like The Times spots the correlation. Some government agency conducts an investigation, maybe banning some things even though that won't bring the victims back from the dead. And, inevitably, nobody wins.