Four Loko Drink Makes CWU Students Sick; Read Statement From Company
ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Administrators at Central Washington University say nine students hospitalized in October overdosed on an alcoholic energy drink called Four Loko. Investigators said no students were drugged, as previously suspected by some.
Four Loko is an alcoholic energy drink that combines malt liquor and caffeine. Professor Ken Briggs, chair of CWU's Department of Physical Education, School and Public Health said Four Loko contains as much alcohol as a six pack of beer and as much caffeine as five cups of coffee.
Nine people were taken to hospitals in Ellensburg and Yakima on October 8 after getting sick at a house party in Roslyn, about 30 miles from campus.
Investigators spent weeks interviewing 57 people and reviewing toxicology reports after some believed women might have been given date rape drugs.
"What emerged from our investigation was really something quite different and perhaps even more disturbing," said CWU Police Chief Steve Rittereiser.
Test results from those hospitalized showed no traces of any date rape drug, but all nine hospitalized students had blood alcohol levels ranging from .12 to .35. Authorities say that is equivalent to being under surgical anesthesia. It is more than four times the legal limit for adults. All of the students involved were under the age of 21.
"What we have here is a binge drinker's dream," said Professor Briggs. "The effect of this interaction (between caffeine and alcohol) is obvious- you have a wide awake drunk who may not feel the warning signs of dangerous drinking."
The University said about 40 students will be referred to student conduct for assignment to an alcohol education and awareness class. Authorities said no criminal charges would be filed against the minors for drinking alcohol.
"Sending students away from our institution (such as expulsion or suspension) without education just puts them into the same risk situation that's just not in our level of responsibility," said CWU President James L. Gaudino. "That's not what higher education is about. We want to solve the problem and not just dismiss students."
Detectives are still investigating how and where the underage students bought or obtained the alcohol. Authorities say criminal charges could be considered depending on the results of the investigation.
All students hospitalized have been released.
KHQ Local News Reporter Anthony Gomes contributed to this report.
Four Loko Statement On CWU Incident:
Received October 25, 2010
The unacceptable incident at Central Washington University, which appears to have involved hard liquor, such as vodka and rum, beer, our products, and possibly illicit substances, is precisely why we go to great lengths to ensure our products are not sold to underage consumers and are not abused. As a company, we do all we can to ensure that our products are consumed safely and responsibly.
Caffeinated alcoholic beverages, like Four Loko, have become popular products nationwide. Widespread media coverage of these beverages, and incidents in which they've been abused and used illegally, have raised questions about them and about their place in society.
Consuming caffeine and alcohol together has been done safely for years.
People have safely enjoyed mixing alcohol and caffeine products for years in their homes, and in restaurants and bars. Having coffee after a meal with wine, or consuming rum and cola, an Irish coffee or a Red Bull and vodka are all popular practices. Our products contain less alcohol than an average rum and cola, less alcohol and caffeine than an average Red Bull and vodka, and are comparable to having coffee after a meal with a couple glasses of wine. In addition, there are literally hundreds of pre-mixed, spirit-based caffeinated alcoholic beverages being sold and consumed in the United States today. Our products are not energy drinks, as they've been called – and when consumed responsibly, they are just as safe as any other alcoholic beverages. This conclusion was recently affirmed by way of a study we had prepared in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration's requests for information which found that combining alcohol and caffeine is safe. An independent panel of scientific and food safety experts unanimously concluded that combining caffeine and alcohol is safe. The agency's scientists are currently evaluating the data and information and are assessing whether any further regulation of caffeinated alcoholic beverages is necessary.
We market our products responsibly, and only to those of legal drinking age.
We are strong believers in the idea that the more people know about our products and how to enjoy them safely, the better off everyone will be. This is why we go above and beyond state and federal legal requirements to inform consumers and retailers that our products are alcoholic beverages. Our cans feature seven different warnings about the product's alcohol content and the necessity of an ID for purchase. And we're the only manufacturer of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to prominently place a ‘WE ID' message on our can. We also offer free, point-of-sale materials to stores selling our products that reinforce the importance of asking for identification when selling any alcoholic beverage.
When it comes to marketing our products, in addition to the can labels and point-of-sale materials that all carry responsible drinking messages, our company has taken a unique position and made a conscious effort to reject the social media marketing tactics that other companies embrace – including many of our competitors. There is no company-sponsored "Four Loko" Facebook page or YouTube channel.
Our efforts are ones we want more parents, educators, consumers and regulators to know about and understand. This is why we house numerous materials on our website about our commitment to safe and responsible alcohol use. We welcome any and every opportunity to discuss our company, our products and our commitment to operating responsibly.
Making college campuses safe and healthy environments for learning is a goal we share with administrators – even those who have chosen to ban our products.
No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or consumed unlawfully by underage drinkers, which appears to have been the case at Central Washington. However, we also know that curbing alcohol abuse on college campuses will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category. The only answer lies with increased education and awareness by all involved and with respecting the law.
This is why we intend to not only continue our current responsible drinking efforts, but to build on them as well. We want to be part of the solution to this age-old problem, and we see addressing this issue as both a fundamental priority and an ultimate responsibility we share with the entire alcoholic beverage industry.
We welcome an open dialogue about the ways responsible companies, schools and organizations can combat underage drinking and alcohol abuse. We are proud of the work we do to ensure our products are used properly and only by adults of legal drinking age. We look forward to working with all interested parties to ensure that our products, and all alcoholic beverages, are consumed safely and responsibly.
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