Lufkin doctor says Four Loko is dangerous

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Whitney Grunder - email

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - A new energy drink is now believed to be what caused nine students to be hospitalized.  Police say the popular drink left students at Central Washington with staggering blood alcohol levels.  Now, the attorney general is calling for a ban on "Four Loko," a mix of alcohol and caffeine.

The energy drink has caught the attention of four state attorneys general who are now investigating the beverage that contains about 12 percent alcohol, equal to about six beers.  Blood alcohol levels from the Central Washington college students ranged from point-1 to point-2 to point-35.

None of the students claimed they were given alcohol or drugs against their will or against their knowledge.  "Four Loko" parties are sweeping college campuses nationwide.

Its name is derived from its four main ingredients.  The drink contains 12 percent alcohol which is equivalent to three or four 12-ounce beers.  It also has taurine, caffeine and guarana. Doctors say guarana alone contains up to three times more caffeine than coffee.

Critics note it's cheaper than a six pack and it'll get you just as drunk and it's sweet taste is better than the taste of beer.  Some call it "liquid crack."

It comes in a flashy, colorful can. The Four Loko malt drink is a popular choice across college campuses.

It can also be deadly for drinkers.

"We frequently see them in the emergency room and there have been reported deaths, sudden cardiac arrests, with these combinations," Cardiologist Dr. Vivek Mangla said.

Mangla says mixing a stimulant with a depressant is trouble. It can cause heart arrhythmia and other abnormalities.

"It's unpredictable and I would say it could even happen with just one drink, or it could happen after a week of drinking and how your body reacts at a particular time to a particular artificial chemical is variable," Mangla said.

Amy Bradley with the Angelina Coalition says combining alcohol with caffeine, is deemed "wide-awake drunk".

"What this means is that you have all the effects of being drunk but your body doesn't feel it," she said. "You feel alert and awake and it's not going to sleep like it should."

So drinkers keep drinking, unaware of just how much they're consuming.

"One of these drinks is about five Budweiser beers and it contains at least a six-pack worth of caffeine, a six-pack of Coke," Bradley said.

Plus, there's really no nutritional label on the can. Other than the 12-percent alcohol sign, you really don't know what you're getting.

"Because it is labeled as a malt beer, it doesn't have to have a nutrition label," Bradley said. "Some can only deduce from what we know about other products as to what this product has."

What is known is it's a growing problem among young adults who don't understand that just one drink can put their health at risk, something educators and federal officials are now trying to make them aware of.

None of the students from Central Washington was kicked out or charged with underage drinking.  Each one of them has to attend an alcohol education class.  The school's president has banned "Four Loko" from campus, and police are looking for the person who supplied it to the students.

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