Officials concerned about alcoholic energy drinks on campuses

Officials locally and nationally are taking a closer look at the Four Loko drink.

Four Lokos are flavored, highly caffeinated drinks sold in 23.5 ounce cans that contain between 6 and 12 percent alcohol by volume. Sgt. Scott Friedlein of the Champaign Police Department has noticed an increasing prevalence of the Phusion Projects product in the Champaign area. He said that as the drink became more popular, he noticed more unruly behavior.

“Obviously this is something that has been kind of sweeping the country,” Friedlein said. “For us, whether we can tie it to Four Loko or not, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of calls related to intoxicated subjects.”

Friedlein said these calls have increased about 45 percent from last year. Despite this statistic, Mary Russell, coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drug Office, said the University has only had one referral directly related to Four Loko. She said that incidents on other campuses have made the University more aware of the product’s dangers.

“It’s just beginning to be on the radar here because students at other schools have had some difficulties,” Russell said.

She cited an incident at Central Washington University, in which sick, intoxicated students had blood alcohol contents up to 0.35 percent.

Friedlein said the problems with the product result from how students approach it.

“People would typically drink this as they would a regular can of beer,” Friedlein said. “The problem is it contains similar to five shots of alcohol, some people say a six-pack of beer, and then four cups of coffee on top of that. Where our concern is, that quick accelerated consumption of that much alcohol is going to really cause problems for people who aren’t used to consuming alcohol in the first place.”

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking into Four Loko (among other caffeinated alcoholic products) for safety concerns. Phusion Projects said on its website that it is cooperating with the federal government.

“We’ve compiled with the agency’s request and have submitted a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) study showing that combining caffeine and alcohol is safe — a practice that is by no means new or novel,” according to its website.

Friedlein said the products are dangerous, and that there is a significant amount of anxiety nationwide toward the drinks.

“There has been some discussion about the alarming number of cases of overintoxication,” Friedlein said. “I think there is enough concern nationally on Four Loko and other similar products like Joose that you’ll start to see some attorney generals start to take action against those smaller companies.”

Although Russell agrees that students should “be smart” around these drinks, she said she doesn’t think the University will attempt to outlaw the beverage.

“I’m not sure the discussions would necessarily involve a ban, I think it would be much more about how can we educate students so they can make informed choices,” Russell said. “Students may have to decide if their rights are infringed on if the community decides not to have these things for sale in the area.”