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NEW YORK -- Energy drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine are under fire this week as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a stand on whether the drinks are deemed safe and legal, The New York Times reported. A decision can be expected as early as today, according to law enforcement officials in several states.
Several states have already moved to ban the drinks and New York's largest beer distributors agreed to stop delivering caffeinated alcoholic drinks to retailers by Dec. 10.
Spokeswoman for the F.D.A., Beth Martino told The Times, "We're taking a careful and thorough look at the science and the safety of these products."
After a series of reports over the past several months of young people dying after drinking Four Loko, one of the top-selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks that contains 12 percent alcohol and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, the hot topic of whether or not the effects of combing alcohol and caffeine is a dangerous combination has been under the microscope.
An issue for the F.D.A. is whether or not the combination is "generally regarded as safe" an agency designation that requires accepted scientific evidence, The Times stated. While research is scarce on mixing alcohol with caffeine the newspaper pointed out that "caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, doctors say, tricking users unto believing they can keep drinking well past the point of drunkenness."
Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University told The Times: "There's a particular interaction that goes on in the brain when they are consumed simultaneously. The addition of the caffeine impairs the ability of the drinker to tell when they're drunk. What is the level at which it becomes dangerous? We don't know that, and until we can figure it out, the answer is that no level is safe."
While the F.D.A. has declined to say what it will do, several food safety lawyers who once worked for the agency said one option would be to issue warning letters to manufacturers, The Times reported. Ricardo Carvajal, a lawyer at Hyman, Phelps & McNamara and former associate chief counsel of F.D.A. told the newspaper, the warning letters would give manufacturers time to reformulate the drinks voluntarily or take them off the market, as he pointed out this option would be more likely than the F.D.A. seizing the beverages and issuing a court order to stop selling them. "Then it would be up to the manufacturers to decide if they are going to fold or fight back," Mr. Carvajal, told The Times.