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Energy-drink emergency room visits double since 2007: survey

January 16, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The number of people seeking emergency medical treatment after imbibing energy drinks doubled over the past four years, according to a government survey.

The survey shows that between 2007 to 2011, emergency room visits involving energy drinks increased from 10,000 to more than 20,000. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report calls energy drink consumption a "rising public health problem" that can cause insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures serious enough to require emergency care.

The drinks are especially popular with younger consumers, to whom they are usually marketed.

The survey says in 2011 about 42 percent of energy drink emergency cases involved combinations with alcohol or stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall.

Several emergency physicians said they had seen a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.

The beverage industry says energy drinks are safe and there is no proof linking the products to adverse reactions.

The findings came as concerns over energy drinks have intensified following reports last fall of 18 deaths possibly tied to the drinks and so-called energy shots - including a 14-year-old Maryland girl whose family filed a lawsuit after she drank two large cans of Monster Energy drinks and died. Monster says its products were not responsible for the death.

Two senators are calling for the Food and Drug Administration to investigate safety concerns about energy drinks and their ingredients.

Late last year, the FDA asked the U.S. Health and Human Services to update the figures its substance abuse research arm compiles about emergency room visits tied to energy drinks.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's survey was based on responses it receives from about 230 hospitals each year, a representative sample of about 5 percent of emergency departments nationwide. The agency then uses those responses to estimate the number of energy drink-related emergency department visits nationwide.

The FDA said it was considering the findings and pressing for more details as it undertakes a broad review of the safety of energy drinks and related ingredients this spring.

"We will examine this additional information ... as a part of our ongoing investigation into potential safety issues surrounding the use of energy-drink products," FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in a statement.

Beverage manufacturers fired back at the survey, saying the statistics were misleading and taken out of context.

Energy drinks remain a small part of the carbonated soft drinks market, representing only 3.3 percent of sales volume, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. Even as soda consumption has flagged in recent years, energy drinks sales are growing rapidly.

In 2011, sales volume for energy drinks rose by almost 17 percent, with the top three companies - Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar - each logging double-digit gains, Beverage Digest found. The drinks are often marketed at sporting events that are popular among younger people such as surfing and skateboarding.

From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, people from 18 to 25 were the most common age group seeking emergency treatment for energy drink-related reactions, the report found.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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