Energy Drink Emergency Room Visits on the Rise

As mainstream consumption of energy drinks continues to soar, emergency room visits related to energy drink intake are becoming increasingly common, according to a new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report, titled “Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks,” utilizes data from SAMHSA’s 2005-2009 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

The report states that non-alcoholic energy drinks contributed to 13,114 emergency room visits in 2009, a dramatic and nearly tenfold increase since 2005. The reason for the majority of visits was classified as “adverse reactions” to energy drinks — although 44 percent of the visits were the result of individuals combining energy drinks with drugs or alcohol, according to the study. Overall, men aged 18-39 made up a majority of emergency room visits, and visits by men were more likely than visits by women to involve energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs.

“The beverage industry, consumer groups, community coalitions, the healthcare community, teachers, parents and others must get the word out that quick-fix energy drinks are not a solution and carry great risks, especially in combination with other substances of abuse,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde.

SAMHSA laid much of the blame on caffeine, a key ingredient in most energy drinks. The report indicated that while there are no established guidelines for “safe” levels of caffeine, many researchers consider 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day to be moderate intake for an adult. The report noted that excessive caffeine intake can lead to a variety of health issues including hypertension, diabetes and anxiety disorders and stated that the total amount of caffeine in a can or bottle of an energy drink reached level as high as 500 milligrams, compared with about 100 mg in a five oz. cup of coffee or 50 milligrams in a 12 oz. cola.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) was not pleased with the report.

“This paper is a troubling example of statistics taken out of context,” the ABA said in a statement. “Of the more than 123 million visits made to emergency room facilities each year, less than one one-hundredth of one percent involved people who consumed energy drinks according to this report.  Even so, this report shares no information about the overall health of those who allegedly consumed energy drinks, or even what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place.”

The ABA also stated that caffeine is a safe ingredient and has been thoroughly tested and deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration and over 140 countries throughout the world. However, the ABA did state that over the last few years, the organization and its members have adopted several voluntary policies concerning energy drinks, specifically related to uniform labeling of ingredients and the guidelines on proper marketing of the beverages.

Brian O’Byrne, the CEO of Hydrive Energy, agreed with the ABA’s statement. He said that the report, which he called “a bit of a witchhunt,” was selective on statistics.

O’Byrne also noted that SAMHSA omitted the fact that that total consumption of energy drinks has skyrocketed over the past decade. He quoted a 2010 report titled “Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety,” which stated that between 2002 and 2007, sales of energy drinks grew by 559 percent – a rate that he said was on par with the increase in emergency room visits associated with energy drink intake.

“Basically, an energy drink has less caffeine than a ‘tall’ or ‘grande’ cup of Starbucks coffee, and nobody is saying anything about that,” O’Byrne said. “Are people going to the emergency room after drinking a cup and a half of Starbucks coffee?”