More than 10 percent of emergency room visits involving energy drinks result in hospitalization


Eight percent of those who visited the ER in 2011 for difficulties involving energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs needed to be hospitalized. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than 10 percent of emergency room visits by people age 12 or older for problems involving energy drinks are serious enough to result in hospitalization, the federal government warned this week.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that 20,783 people visited emergency rooms in 2011 for difficulties involving the high-caffeine drinks, which are heavily marketed to youths and young adults. Eleven percent of them were hospitalized.

The data showed that 12 percent of people who had consumed only the energy drinks were hospitalized, while eight percent of those who had consumed an energy drink in combination with alcohol or drugs needed in-patient care. The total number of emergency room visits involving the beverages doubled between 2007 and 2011.

The flavored drinks — which include the brands Red Bull, Monster Energy and the smaller 5-Hour Energy shots — can contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine, which is five times as much as a typical cup of coffee and 10 times as much as a 12-ounce cola, according to SAMHSA. Ingesting that amount can cause health problems such as insomnia, racing heartbeat and increased blood pressure, the agency said in a bulletin issued March 13.

Even as their sales have soared, the drinks have been linked to “marijuana use, sexual risk taking, fighting, smoking, drinking and prescription drug misuse” among college students, the agency reported in 2013.

In 2012, the New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration had received 13 reports of deaths over the previous four years that cited the possible involvement of 5-Hour Energy and five fatalities that mentioned the possibility of Monster Energy being involved. A year ago, a group of physicians, researchers and public health experts urged the Food and Drug Administration to protect children and teens by restricting the amount of caffeine in energy drinks.

Energy drink companies have said that their products contain about the same amount of caffeine as strongly brewed coffee. Energy drinks and shots are usually sold as dietary supplements or food products, which don’t have caffeine limits. Other ingredients in energy drinks, such as taurine and ginseng, aren’t regulated by the FDA.

Studies have set different limits for the amount of caffeine an adult can safely consume, ranging from 2oo to 400 milligrams a day. More than 200 milligrams can be dangerous for children and adolescents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against giving energy drinks to children.

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.
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Lenny Bernstein | March 19