Energy Drinks Not Responsible For Deaths, Claims Monster
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Last October, redOrbit’s Michael Harper reported at least five deaths had occurred in the past year due to consumption of Monster Energy drinks. Among the deaths was that of a 14-year-old Maryland girl whose parents claimed she died of caffeine toxicity after drinking too many energy drinks marketed by the popular energy drink maker.
The parents of Anais Fournier launched a lawsuit soon after her December 2011 death, claiming negligence and wrongful death. Now, more than a year later, the lawsuit is moving forward. However, Monster Energy isn’t planning on going down without a fight.
The widely-popular energy drink producer, which has been synonymous with sports since debuting back in 2002 under Hansen Natural (aka Monster Beverage Corporation), has gone on the offensive and lashed out at its attackers who have accused it of killing kids.
Monster said on Monday there was “no medical or scientific evidence” that showed its products contributed to the death of the 14-year-old Maryland girl. The company said no blood test was performed to confirm the teen died of “caffeine toxicity.”
Richard Fournier and Wendy Crossland, Anais’ parents, launched the lawsuit last year after she died of cardiac arrest. They maintained her death was a result of consuming two 24-oz Monster Energy drinks within a 24-hour period, causing a mad rush of caffeine throughout her system.
Doctors hired by Monster also worked in the beverage company’s favor. In a press statement released Monday, they said their examination of the medical records showed no evidence tying the girl’s death to caffeine overload, or for that matter, any other ingredient found in the energy beverage. The doctors noted what they did find was the girl had been receiving treatment for a heart condition since childhood.
“’Why did she suddenly die’ is the question,” said San Diego ER physician Michael Forman, one of the doctors hired by Monster. “That question can never be answered with any certainty.”
Given the girl’s health history, Forman said she may have suffered cardiac arrest regardless of what she drank that day.
Daniel Callahan, Monster’s lawyer, told the Associated Press (AP) the girl likely died of natural causes brought on by her pre-existing medical conditions. He said there is no evidence to prove otherwise.
Callahan said the only tie to caffeine toxicity comes from the girl’s mother, who told the medical examiner’s office her daughter drank two Monster Energy drinks before her death.
A spokesman for Maryland’s chief medical examiner said he could not confirm whether a caffeine blood test had been performed or not, but did maintain that the office does not comment on cases in litigation. The cause of death on the autopsy report was “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” in the presence of a heart condition.
But Kevin Goldberg, the family’s attorney, said the absence of a caffeine toxicity test “doesn’t tell us anything” and the family remains committed to a jury trial, as they look for justice.
“The fact that she went into cardiac arrest just hours after consuming the second 24-ounce Monster energy drink is evidence that she died of caffeine toxicity,” he told the AP in an email.
In a separate interview with Reuters, he said there were other symptoms of caffeine toxicity, but he declined to comment further. “We have our experts and they have their experts,” he said, adding it was “not appropriate … to litigate the case in the media.”
As for caffeine toxicity, the facts about Monster being a killer in a can are misconstrued, according to the energy drink maker. One 24-oz can of Monster Energy contains 240 milligrams of caffeine – much less than the 260 mg of caffeine in a 12-oz cup of brewed coffee from Starbucks, it noted. An equal amount of that coffee more than doubles the amount of caffeine found in just one can of Monster Energy.
The beverage company also said Anais was known to drink caffeinated coffee each morning while also consuming energy drinks, all the while without incident.
Forman added that her death had “nothing to do with a modest amount of caffeine she consumed,” adding “that amount of caffeine would be safe for anybody.”
But experts are quickly casting doubt on the safety of drinks produced by the energy drink industry, which has become a $12.5-billion annual market.
Apart from the Fournier case, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing its investigations into the claims energy drinks are killing US children.
Shelly Burgess, spokeswoman for the FDA, said on Monday the agency “continues to look into cases in which energy drinks were suspected as a possible cause of death,” although such reports do not establish causality between the drinks and death.
“If we find additional information that establishes causality, FDA will take appropriate steps to protect the public and remove the harm,” Burgess said in a statement to Reuters.
Monster’s drinks do have labeling that they are not intended for children or pregnant women. But Goldberg questioned the way the drinks are marketed, noting they are “intentionally misleading” children to become hooked on their products.
Monster maintains it only targets 18- to 34-year-olds, but that its drinks are safe for children.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the AP last week many of the reports the agency handles fail to establish a direct link to caffeine content. She said many of the report findings “are not very compelling,” without referring to any specific companies or cases.
She did say, however, the FDA takes all cases seriously, and it’s not just incidences related to energy drinks that surface. She said the agency plans to delve deeper and will bring together experts from around the country to examine the issue further.
In all, Monster has had five death reports attributed to its energy drinks. The 5-Hour Energy drink franchise has had 13 deaths attributed to it in the past four years, according to the FDA.
Earlier this year, a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found the number of ER visits involving energy drinks doubled to more than 20,000 in 2011 from 2008. They further discovered the main age group for these incidences were 18- to 39-year-olds. Findings for that report came from the Drug Abuse Warning Network database.
Monster said the report was “highly misleading.” Despite the reports, the energy drink maker maintains its products are safe for consumers, with more than 8 billion cans being sold and consumed since 2002.
But despite the company’s optimistic outlook, it has taken a hit in sales, falling to its lowest levels since 2009, according to YouGov BrandIndex.