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Published: Wednesday, 11/21/2012

A shot of concern

The manufacturers of 5-Hour Energy Shots don’t want you to think about how much caffeine each two-ounce bottle includes. To say they hold a lot would be an understatement.

Students cramming for exams rely on them. Office workers trying to beat the midday slump swear by them. Truck drivers use them to keep on truckin.’ For those on a deadline who can’t afford to sleep, resorting to a 5-Hour Energy Shot seems reasonable.

Since 2009, however, consumption of 5-Hour Energy Shots has been linked to 13 deaths, 33 hospitalizations, and 92 other incidents, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate.

One consumer watchdog put the level of caffeine in a two-ounce bottle at 215 milligrams — way more than the 150 milligrams or so in an eight-ounce cup of coffee. Plus, because 5-Hour Energy Shots come in a variety of flavors, it’s easy to consume more than one at a time. Even two drinks inject an unusually potent amount of caffeine into the nervous system.

Living Essentials of Farmington Hills, Mich., which makes the drink, insists that its product is safe when used properly and that no deaths or injuries have been conclusively connected to it. Not surprisingly, the company doesn’t believe more FDA oversight — or more warning on the label — is needed.

A bill introduced in Congress last year that would regulate the product has gone nowhere because of industry resistance. Meaningful studies of the drink have yet to be conducted, so reports about deaths and injuries appear anecdotal. Still, there’s no reason for the FDA to wait for industry permission to determine whether the product can be safely consumed.

Because of the popularity of the drink, numerous indications that it can be harmful, and the number of lives at stake, the federal agency must determine whether, and under what conditions, the product is safe.



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