Four Loko Company Defends Caffeinated Booze After Washington Students Sickened at Party

College authorities say caffeinated alcoholic drink to blame for mass sickening.

October 25, 2010, 2:42 PM

Oct. 26, 2010— -- The company behind a 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 seriously ill.

The aftermath of the party, at which police found students passed out all over the house and rushed nine to the hospital, has renewed calls for bans on the drink Four Loko, which combines as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer and the equivalent of one cup of coffee.

"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 head, and I've just never seen anything like that."

Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects defended its product in a statement to ABC News, pointing to seven labels on the can warning 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 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 they initially were believed to be the victims of the date rape drug. But police said Monday that toxicology tests on the students found no evidence of drug use.

Central Washington quickly joined a growing list of college that have banned the drinks, which sell for about $2.50 each and have been nicknamed "blackout in a can."

The Food and Drug Administration is already investigating caffeinated alcoholic drinks, including Four Loko, and are 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" today. "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 it's 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 Monday 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. 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, found young people – many of them women – passed out throughout the house and on the front lawn.

Police were immediately suspicious that drugs were involved, but interviews with the students and toxicology tests ruled out drugs, police said.

"Perhaps even more disturbing," said 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.

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