The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has ordered a halt on the sale and distribution of the popular alcoholic beverage Four Loko. The “alcopop” energy drink boasts a 12.5 percent alcohol content in conjunction with added caffeine, taurine and ingredients typically found in energy drinks.
Stacey Witalec, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said in a phone interview, “The board has sent letters to all licensees to withhold selling alcoholic energy products until the Food & Drug Administration has concluded an investigation.” While not an official ban, the state has ordered licensed retailers to hold off sale of beverages such as Four Loko, Joose, and other caffeinated alcopops until the FDA deems them safe for public consumption. Currently, the FDA does not regulate alcohol products with caffeine.
“Developing research shows caffeine and alcohol can be dangerous,” Witalec said. “The body doesn’t know how to react.” Witalec also noted the difference between Four Loko and cocktails such as Jagerbombs lies in Loko’s size. “When you order a drink at a bar,” Witalec said, “it’s often an appropriate size. Four Loko comes in a 23oz. can. A person at a bar might stop, but once someone opens a can—let’s face it, they’re not going to stop halfway. One can of Four Loko is equivalent to five or six malt beverages.”
Dr. Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology at Cabrini College, believes the potential dangers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are no laughing matter. “When you have a [typical] alcoholic drink,” Terlecki said, “You feel the effects, so you’re able to stop or you end up passing out—whichever comes first. The fact that these drinks add in the caffeine, a stimulant, prevents you from feeling the neurological and physiological effects of the depressant. They compensate for each other, and so you’re feeling energetic and not feeling the effects.”
Essentially, Terlecki notes, Four Loko’s danger lies in preventing the consumer from fully realizing his or her inebriation.
“It’s dangerous,” Terlecki said. “The caffeine is boosting the heart and the nervous system while the alcohol is retarding the nervous system. You think you’re fine, so you keep drinking and keep drinking and sooner or later, you either pass out or become so drunk that you can’t speak or function and may have to be hospitalized.”
Captain John Hellebush of the Upper Merion Police Department says officers have experienced the dangerous results of Four Loko. “Our department has had experience with individuals who have consumed the drink and have had to be transported to local area hospitals,” Hellebush said in a phone interview.
Like any alcoholic drink, Terlecki said, Four Loko should be consumed responsibly. Excess can, and sometimes will, result in medical issues.
Phusion Projects, a LLC developed by three Ohio State University alumni and owner of Four Loko, have committed to safety in an official press release. “Our cans feature seven different warnings…in as large a font as the federal government will allow,” the company said. “Four Loko’s can colors are no brighter or more appealing than the blue, red, and green labels of established beer brands like Budweiser and Heineken.”
Nonetheless, Four Loko’s contents remain a cause for concern to many, including the Pa. Liquor Control Board. “This is quickly becoming a public health crisis,” Witalec said.