We’ve all seen the advertisements touting the virtues of energy drinks. Energy drink makers promise everything from enhanced mental and physical performance to increased energy and mental acuity. And those big promises are generating big profits for the ever-growing $8.7 billion energy drink market.

The flip side of the story was recently released in medical reports showing increased ER visits involving energy drinks and FDA records of injuries and fatalities allegedly related to their consumption. People suffering everything from insomnia to heart attacks report ingesting energy drinks in the very recent past before experiencing their symptoms.

What these drinks all have in common is high amounts of caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and is recognized as the most widely used drug in the world. It is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure by stimulating the body’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. The FDA’s website defines caffeine as both “a drug and a food additive”. It also warns that “people with heart problems shouldn’t use caffeine because it makes their hearts work too hard.”

Increased ER visits, injury reports & deaths related to energy drinks

Why are we suddenly overrun with stories about energy drinks? A recent government survey of the nation’s hospitals by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that emergency room visits for adverse reactions to energy drinks doubled during the four-year period from 2007-2011. Last year, there were over 20,000 ER visits where people complained of medical problems including insomnia, nervousness, headaches, anxiety, irregular heartbeat and heart attack following recent consumption of an energy drink.

Then this past November, the FDA released several “adverse event” reports involving the four leading energy drink producers: 5-Hour Energy, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy and Red Bull. These reports showed the FDA received over 90 injury and 13 fatality filings involving 5-Hour energy between 2008-2012, 21 incident reports involving Red Bull, 13 incident reports for Rockstar Energy and 5 fatality reports involving Monster Energy. (It is important to note that the filing of a report against an energy drink manufacturer does not constitute an admission of or finding of responsibility for an alleged injury or death.)

Lack of FDA oversight

Part of the problem is the lack of FDA oversight. The scope of the FDA’s authority over energy drinks changes depending on whether the drink is marketed as a beverage or a dietary supplement. The FDA has stronger oversight of those labeled as “beverages” including Red bull, Nos (Coke), Full throttle and Amp (Pepsi), but less regulatory authority over those categorized as dietary supplements including 5-Hour Energy, Rockstar Energy, and Monster Energy.

Failure to Warn

The parents of a 14-year old girl who died from cardiac arrest after drinking 2 Monster Energy drinks within a 24-hour period recently filed suit against the company. Her parents contend that Monster Energy had a duty to warn consumers with heart conditions not to drink their product and they failed to provide any such warning.

Deceptive marketing?

The parents also allege that Monster Energy engaged in false and deceptive marketing practices and violated consumer protection laws. Energy drinks are marketed as being part of a healthy diet and target teenagers and young adults claiming enhanced sports performance, improved mental function and increased energy with no crash. But do these drinks really do what they say they’ll do? What’s in them besides caffeine? Are these products safe?

Federal lawmakers concerned

Federal lawmakers are pressing the FDA to investigate the safety of energy drinks and to tighten regulations but the FDA says there is no hard evidence to support tightening regulations at this point.

On January 17, 2013, three Democratic federal lawmakers sent a letter to 14 energy drink producers asking for information about their product’s ingredients, and for any internal studies on the risks and benefits of energy drinks on children and teenagers. Congressman Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts stressed that energy drink producers “need to be clear with consumers about what they think their product is, what it contains, and what it can do.”

Good news is this spring the FDA is scheduled to review energy drink safety and the safety of its ingredients. We’ll continue to update our blog about the latest findings and developments with energy drinks.

What to do?

The bottom line…use common sense before consuming any energy drink regardless of its claims. And if you have a heart condition, please consult your doctor before drinking any of these products. Also, if you’ve had an adverse reaction after consuming an energy drink, the FDA urges you to contact the product manufacturer and report what happened. Finally, if you believe you or a loved one have been injured by an energy drink, we urge you to seek immediate medical attention and don’t hesitate to contact an experienced personal injury attorney if you have any questions.