11/16/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, US // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan

West Palm Beach, FL—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a stance on alcoholic energy drinks, which include the highly scrutinized beverage Four Loko, as soon as Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010. The beverages, which combine alcohol and caffeine, have been linked to countless hospitalizations, including two deaths, as reported by the New York Times.

The FDA, which began reviewing the safety of alcoholic energy drinks a year ago, has been urged to take action with regard to the potentially dangerous beverages. The administration also faces criticism for its apparent failure to complete the review in a timely fashion.

Just four years after Chicago-based Phusion Projects, creator of the notorious concoction known as Four Loko, was founded in 2005, the firm had annual sales of $144 million.

When beginning to distribute and market the alcoholic energy drinks, the company apparently employed college students as interns. The interns were given cases of the company’s drinks and instructed to distribute samples to bars in close proximity to university campuses.

In layman’s terms, the company’s target audience consisted of the nation’s party animals: college students.

According to former Phusion Projects intern Rachael Minucciani, “We were essentially hired to throw parties and introduce the product to our friends… They said, ‘Take the product, take the merchandise and run with it.”

Phusion Projects claims it is no more dangerous to consume alcoholic energy drinks than it is to drink a cup of coffee after having a few glasses of wine with a meal.

A professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University, on the other hand, contended otherwise. Dr. Mary Claire O’Brian expressed her concerns to the FDA last year, alleging, “There’s a particular interaction that goes on in the brain when they (alcohol and caffeine) are consumed simultaneously.”

“The addition of the caffeine impairs the ability of the drinker to tell when they’re drunk. What is the level at which it becomes dangerous? We don’t know that, and until we can figure it out, the answer is that no level is safe,” Dr. O’Brian added.

Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, also seemed to believe the FDA should have been more prompt in conducting a safety review of the popular beverages. “To be very blunt, there’s just no excuse for the delay in applying standards that clearly should bar this kind of witch’s brew,” Blumenthal said.

Food safety lawyers alleged the FDA will likely issue warning letters to the manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks. Marc Scheineson, former associate commissioner for the FDA, said seizing the beverages and seeking a court order to prohibit their sale would be a “last resort.”

Nonetheless, the debate continues.

Check back for updates.

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan- Legal News for Product Liability Lawyers.

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