Scientists Aim to Clarify Reports on Caffeine

Here’s one scenario that there might be a skewed view on the reporting of emergency room visits involving energy drinks, according to one expert:

Say you’ve got a junkie. It’s August, mid-afternoon, triple digits outside and, after wandering on concrete for hours, he’s tired and thirsty. He walks into a convenience store, buys an energy drink, walks outside, sits on the curb and sips, watching strangers fill their tanks and drive away. He takes his time, savors the drink, finishes it, walks to the bathroom and shoots up heroin.

After feeling good, now he’s not feeling so good. He walks to the nearest emergency room and points to his arm. If he says that he had an energy drink, his case will probably show up in the data of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an emergency visit related to heroin, quite obviously, and an energy drink. If he’d consumed a coffee instead of an energy drink, it’s highly unlikely that the coffee would be reported.

“There is certainly bias built in to identify products of this nature,” said Richard Kingston, the president of regulatory and scientific affairs and co-founder of SafetyCall International.

Kingston and other researchers shared their insights on what they termed the misinformation, research gaps and potential benefits of caffeinated products during a webcast hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists earlier this week titled The Buzz on Caffeine: New Developments in Safety, Regulation and Adverse Event Reporting.

Kingston felt it necessary to outline this point on bias, in part, because of a recent report by SAMHSA that noted that emergency room visits related to energy drinks have nearly doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2013. Kingston said that spike naturally caught the attention of those who read the report. But he made it clear he thinks that many of these emergency room visits shouldn’t be attributed to energy drinks. He spent his time during the webcast reiterating that emergency visits and hospitalizations, which are recorded by SAMHSA and the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), among other groups, don’t always equate to injury or poisonings.

He also refuted a few claims by the AAPCC, which, at an August meeting on caffeine safety hosted by the Institute of Medicine, said that 18 percent of caffeinated energy drink incidents resulted in no effect. Kingston said that, on the contrary, 82 percent of events result in no poisoning and that approximately 81 percent of events involving people older than 13 years have no adverse effects, with serious outcomes rarely occurring. The AAPCC also said that more than half of the caffeinated energy drink poisonings involved children 6 years old and older. Kingston said that, rather, more than half of the 1,490 caffeinated energy drink exposures, not poisonings, involved children 6 years old and older, and approximately 85 percent of those events resulted in no adverse effects.