American Beverage Association on DAWN Report: “Don’t Believe the Hype”

Over the last three days, the American Beverage Association (ABA) has published three separate statements countering a recent Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report which found that the number of emergency room visits involving energy drinks more than doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011. The ABA called the report inaccurate and “more sensational than substantive.”

The DAWN Report, titled “Update on Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks: A Continuing Public Health Concern,” was released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal government funded agency. The report states that DAWN is “a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related emergency department (ED) visits in the United States,” and “can be used as a source of information for assessing the more negative medical consequences associated with consuming energy drinks.” SAMHSA released its first report on energy drink-related emergency room visits in November 2011.

The report contends that “consumption of energy drinks is a rising public health problem because medical and behavioral consequences can result from excessive caffeine intake,” particularly with regard to young people. The majority of energy drink-related emergency room visits involved either “adverse reactions” tied to consumption of the products or in conjunction with misuse or abuse of illicit drugs, according to the report. The report noted that in each year from 2007 to 2011, visits involving “adverse reactions” were approximately twice as commonly reported as visits involving misuse or abuse of drugs.

Following its publication, the ABA quickly condemned the report, which has been cited in a number of recent news stories from mainstream media, including The New York Times and ABC News. In a statement released on Jan. 14, the ABA noted that the report “does not share information about the overall health of those who may have consumed energy drinks, or what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place,” and “that there is no basis by which to understand the overall caffeine intake of any of these individuals – from all sources, from coffee or other caffeinated products.”

The ABA responded to an “ABC World News” segment about the DAWN report in a Jan. 16 statement and pointed out that “the report suggests that of the 136 million emergency room visits in a year, less than two one-hundredths of a percent are allegedly associated with energy drinks.” Additionally, the ABA claimed that “most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee.”

And in a Jan. 16 blog post titled “Don’t Believe the Hype,” the ABA said that the report inaccurately suggested that the caffeine in energy drinks is “dramatically higher than other caffeinated beverages, even comparing the amount of caffeine in an average energy drink with that of a 5 ounce cup of coffee.”

“While we know that energy drinks don’t come in 5 ounce containers, we’d like to ask:  when’s the last time you had a 5 ounce cup of coffee?” the ABA said. “Clearly this is an unfair comparison.”