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

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

ByABC News
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."