Nov. 17, 2010— -- The makers of a controversial caffeinated alcoholic energy drink are removing the caffeine from the product following widespread outcry over safety concerns.
Dozens of students have been hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, police said.
Four states have now banned the product, and New York Sen. Charles Schumer's office is reporting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to rule as early as today that the drink is unsafe and may be banned.
The makers of the drink, Chicago-based Phusion Projects, maintain their product is safe, but say they're removing the caffeine "after trying unsuccessfully to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels," in a statement posted on their website.
It's a bittersweet victory for Joe and Vicki Keiran, who say their 20-year-old son, Jason, died after becoming wired and drunk after drinking at least three cans of the energy drink Four Loko. The amount he consumed was the equivalent of 18 light beers and 6 cups of coffee.
Each fruit punch-flavored 23.5-ounce can has about 2.82 ounces of alcohol and about 156 milligrams of caffeine.
The family's attorney, Don Van Dingenen, says the Florida State sophomore picked up a friend's gun after partying with his roommates for 30 hours straight on Sept. 17.
"They say he started to act crazy. He pointed the gun at his head and everyone else. He said 'I realize I'm freaking you guys out take the gun away from me,'" Van Dingenen said.
The Keirans believe the drink caused their son to become so manic and erratic that he accidentally shot himself. They say they are suing the makers of Four Loko to send a message that this and other similar products need to be banned.
The medical examiner's office has not ruled on whether Jason Keiran's death was an accidental shooting or suicide.
However, friends who witnessed the tragedy say it was an accident and his parents say he would never have taken his own life on purpose.
"I just miss him more and more every day I wish he would e-mail me I wish he would call me -- I wish he was coming home for Thanksgiving," Vicki Keiran said.
Backlash Against Energy Drinks
The Keirans say they talked with their son's friends after his death, and the drink kept coming up in conversation. Then, they started hearing stories about young people across the country who had behaved erratically after ingesting the product.
Police say dozens of students have been hospitalized including nine from Central Washington University who became violently ill at a party.
Four Loko "should have a skull and crossbones on it and sitting up there beside rat poison on the shelf," said Joe Keiran.
The makers of Four Loko had no comment on the Keirans' lawsuit, but they condemned underage drinking, noting that their product was intended for adults only.
The company has told government regulators that it doesn't "agree with the notion that mixing caffeine and alcohol is inherently unsafe."
The manufacturers also pointed out there are 40 other similar beverages on the market.
"We welcome the opportunity to have a discussion with you about working together to create uniform, industrywide standards," the company said.
There's now a growing backlash against energy drinks that mix caffeine and alcohol, even as such drinks are gaining in popularity on college campuses.
Drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with caffeine are three times more likely to binge drink that those who drink alcohol only, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.