The risks of energy drinks

Mother of 19-year-old campaigning to ban energy drinks from schools

Author: Jason Law, General assignment reporter, weekend anchor, Jlaw@wjxt.com
Published On: May 23 2012 05:33:03 PM EDT   Updated On: May 24 2012 07:06:35 AM EDT
Monster and Drew James graphic
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Energy Drinks are sold in coolers right next to soda, juice, water and milk. But in recent years, these highly caffeinated drinks have been accused of contributing to the deaths of young people, including one in northeast Florida.

Nassau County mother Cheryl James says a can of Monster Nitrous killed her son.

"There's no doubt in my mind," James said.

In 2010, 19-year-old Drew James and a friend picked up a a couple cans of Monster Nitrous.  When they got to a friend's house, James fell over and began to have seizures. He died before he got to the hospital.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on James left the energy drink out of his report. He told Channel 4 there wasn't enough evidence to link the drink with James death. The examiner believes James could have suffered from undiagnosed cardiomyopathy -- heart-muscle disease -- but his report is inconclusive on that point.

The toxicology report found caffeine, marijuana and nicotine in James' urine. The friend with James that night -- Jason Mullins -- said James had no drugs or alcohol the day he died. His mother says James had no health conditions they were aware of.

At first Mullins didn't think it was possible an energy drink could have killed his friend.

"He was just like any other kid my age. You know, pick one up before work. Pick one up towards the end of his day," Mullins said.

"Everybody was asking, the doctors, rescue, everybody, 'What did he have? Did he eat anything?' The only thing other than Taco Bell and a soda was one of these," Mullins said, pointing one of the drinks.

"Something caused that heart attack, and it wasn't an underlying heart problem," James said.

A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that trips to the emergency room associated with non-alcoholic energy drinks have increased significantly in the last couple of years. The report says the number of ER visits jumped from 1,128 to more than 13,114 in 2009 -- an 1,162 percent increase.

Last month, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin called on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the caffeine levels in energy drinks like Monster Energy, Rockstar and Red Bull.
Durbin's letter to the FDA was a reaction to the death of a 14-year-old girl in Maryland who died after drinking two 24-ounce Monster Energy drinks in a 24-hour period.
The Food and Drug Administration places energy drinks under the same category as dietary supplements, which are regulated differently than other caffeinated products like soda or chocolate.

The side of a Monster can says: "Limit 3 cans per day. Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine."

Dr. Daniel Fabricant with the FDA says the government needs more research.

"For us to make a hard and fast scientific [conclusion],we've got to be able to show there's an unreasonable risk of the ingredients under normal conditions of use," Fabricant said.

Shands Dr. Kristin McKee believes the energy drinks should be kept out of the hands of children.

"If you have an underlying heart condition which a lot of people under the age of 18 don't know if they really do they can go into fatal athrymia and you know, die," McKee said.

Cheryl James wants to see age requirements for the drinks too. Her son was 19 when he died, but he began drinking energy drinks when we was in his early teens.

"He thought, and I did too, and I know everybody else that walks in there and buys those things they think they're not going to hurt you. They don't realize that it's not FDA approved, like everything that sits beside it," James said.

The makers of Monster Energy drinks did not comment.

James says her goal now is to lobby the Nassau County School District to ban energy drinks from all their schools to help prevent the death of someone else's child.