On May 15 it was ruled that a 16-year-old South Carolina boy died from a caffeine overdose after drinking caffeine-laden soft drinks, coffee and an energy drink.
Davis Allen Cripe, who died in April, "consumed a large diet Mountain Dew, a cafe latte from McDonalds and also some type of energy drink" within the two hours before his death, said coroner Gary Watts.
"The autopsy was performed and there was nothing there to indicate any type of ... undiagnosed heart condition," he said. "It was so much caffeine at the time of his death that it caused his arrhythmia."
Watts said he did not know what type of energy drink Cripe drank, but emphasized that such drinks "can be very dangerous."
A medical examiner and a forensic toxicologist both examined Cripe, explained Watts. "Based on his weight, the intake of caffeine that he had exceeded what is considered a safe level."
He told a press conference: "The purpose here today is not to slam Mountain Dew, not to slam cafe lattes, or energy drinks. But what we want to do is to make people understand that these drinks -- this amount of caffeine, how it's ingested, can have dire consequences. And that's what happened in this case."
Also speaking at the same news conference was the boy's father, Sean Cripe.
"It wasn't a car crash that took his life. Instead, it was an energy drink," he said. "Parents, please talk to your kids about these energy drinks."
"Davis, like so many other kids and so many other people out there today, were doing something that they thought was totally harmless, and that was ingesting lots of caffeine," Watts said.
The FDA has investigated reports of at least five deaths that were allegedly caused by energy drinks.
"The energy drink industry claims that their products are safe because they have no more caffeine than a premium coffee house coffee," notes Dr. Jennifer L. Harris from University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, as quoted by Reuters. "However, energy drinks also contain a proprietary 'energy blend,' which typically consists of stimulants and other additives. Some of these ingredients (including taurine and guarana) have not been FDA-approved as safe in the food supply, and few studies have tested the effects of caffeine consumption together with these 'novelty' ingredients."
She also notes these products tend to be marketed to teen and adolescent boys in ways that encourage risky behavior, including drinking many of the drinks in a short period of time.
"As a result, emergency room visits by young people in connection with energy drinks are rising."