The state of Washington's Liquor Control Board on Wednesday followed Michigan's lead in banning the drink Four Loko, and all similar caffeinated malt liquor drinks. The move follows an incident in which dozens of Washington college students who are believed to have consumed the controversial beverage, were hospitalized.
Michigan's liquor control commission banned the retail sale of all alcoholic energy drinks statewide last week, including Four Loko, saying the drinks "present a threat to the public health and safety." Washington's ban will take effect Nov. 18. according to seattlepi.com.
Commonly known among college students as "blackout in a can," one can of the fruity liquor malt combines 12 percent alcohol with a kick of caffeine equal to an average cup of coffee. The contrasting effects of consuming alcohol and stimulants conceal the effects of the alcohol. Consumers who can't recognize the effect of the alcohol may drink more.
Many college campuses sent notices to students warning about the potential dangers of alcoholic energy drinks, and some campuses, such as the University of Rhode Island, have banned the drink. Besides Michigan and Washington, a push is underway in New York and Oregon for a statewide sales ban.
Dangerous Mixture: Caffeinated Malt Liquor
The maker of Four Loko, the controversial caffeinated alcoholic beverage that's believed to have caused the sickening of dozens of Central Washington University students, said it was the mixing of alcohol and possibly drugs that made the students so ill.
In the aftermath of the party last month, police found students passed out all over the house and rushed nine to the hospital. The incident prompted renewed calls to ban sales of the drink.
"One girl was sitting on a bench and she fainted, and my friend and I were like, 'Oh my God, oh my God.' We rushed out to help her and I gave her CPR," said one freshman who was at the Oct. 8 party but asked not to be identified.
"These people were still fighting for consciousness almost," the student said. "And their eyes were rolling back to their heads, and I've just never seen anything like that."
Company behind Four Loko Defends Drink
Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects defended its product in a statement to ABC News, pointing to seven labels on the can that warned of the drink's contents and calling attention to the need for identification to purchase it.
"The unacceptable incident at Central Washington University, which appears to have involved hard liquor ... and possibly illicit substances," the statement read, "is precisely why we go to great lengths to ensure that our products are not sold to underage consumers and are not abused."
Authorities who responded to the party said the students were in such bad condition that they were initially believed to have fallen victim to the date rape drug. But police said that toxicology tests performed on the students found no evidence of drug use.
Central Washington quickly joined a growing list of colleges that have banned the drinks, which sell for about $2.50 each.
The Food and Drug Administration is already investigating caffeinated alcoholic drinks, including Four Loko, and is asking for justification for putting caffeine in the beverages.
"The problem is when you put all these things together, it's a nightmare," Harris Stratyner, vice president of the Caron Center and an addiction specialist, told "Good Morning America." "The caffeine may make you feel like you're not getting drunk as quickly so you may ingest more."
Stratyner said he saw no reason for caffeine to be added, "other than to give kids an added boost and to get them to purchase more."
"Quite frankly, I think adults that are legal shouldn't drink it either," he said.
In its statement to ABC News, Phusion Projects said Four Loko was as safe as any other alcoholic beverage.
"Consuming caffeine and alcohol together has been done safely for years," the statement read. "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."
Calls to Ban Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks Like Four Loko
Central Washington University announced at a news conference in Ellensburg, Wash., that more than 50 students had become ill at the party and that the blood-alcohol content of students ranged from .12 percent to .335 percent.
In Washington, 0.08 is the legal limit for intoxication, and 0.3 can be lethal.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said he would ask the FDA to ban the drinks nationwide.
Police called to the scene of the house party, in Rosyln, Wash., about 30 miles from the university, immediately suspected that drugs were involved, but interviews with the students and toxicology tests ruled out drugs, police said.
"Perhaps even more disturbing," said Police Chief Steve Rittereiser, was that students were drinking beer and vodka in addition to Four Loko.
Attorneys general in New York and New Jersey have also called for federal investigations following incidents involving college students in those states.
"There's no redeeming social purpose to be served by having the beverage," Ramapo College President Peter Mercer told The Associated Press after he banned the drink on his campus when several students became sick.