The D.C. Department of Health is asking emergency medical services in the District to report any incidents involving Four Loko, a popular beverage nicknamed “blackout in a can,” in response to widespread concerns over the drink’s possible health risks.
EMeRG Coordinator David Fifer said his emergency response team has seen two transports due to the beverage this semester, both of which he said were serious in nature.
“I don’t think alcoholic beverages in general are inherently dangerous, but I think Four Loko, specifically, is,” Fifer said. “It’s hard to consume this particular beverage in moderation, since each container contains such a significant amount of alcohol and stimulants. The patients we’ve encountered who are drunk on Four Loko have been gravely ill; much, much sicker than our typical alcohol overdose patients.”
Fifer said one student went into cardiac arrest after consuming four cans of the substance. Each can of Four Loko has 12 percent alcohol by volume and is the equivalent of two eight-ounce cups of coffee, the co-founder of Four Loko, Chris Hunter, told the New York Times.
While GW is not currently considering banning the beverage – as other schools across the country have already done – Fifer, as well as University Police Department Chief Kevin Hay, advises students to steer clear of the beverage.
“It’s difficult to pace yourself and protect yourself when you consume it,” Fifer said.
Hay said UPD considers Four Loko to be a potential threat to public health and safety on campus.
“The trouble is, young people drink them down like beer, but these drinks are more powerful with over 12 percent alcohol by volume,” Hay said. “Plus, the energy drink component allows consumers to stay up longer so they drink more.”
Hay said the recent Four Loko cases on campus involved students who became intoxicated and vomited after drinking the beverage.
“Our advice is to avoid [Four Loko],” Hay said. “We have not yet given consideration to banning it on campus.”
An incident at Central Washington University is what first put Four Loko in the national spotlight. Nine students were found unconscious, lying in a parking lot. Officers thought the students had been poisoned, but found some of the students to have a blood alcohol concentration as high as .35, which is considered to be lethal compared to the legal BAC of .08, according to the Washington Post. Central Washington University determined the students had drunk Four Loko that night.
Since then, the beverage was banned from CWU, Ramapo College of New Jersey and the University of Rhode Island.
URI is a dry campus with no tolerance for alcohol consumption by students, but 30 students received medical treatment for the consumption of Four Loko the night of an on-campus concert Oct. 12. University of Rhode Island’s President David M. Dooley approved a ban on Four Loko in response to the incident.
Other schools, such as Harvard University and the University of Miami, have issued formal warnings to students on the consumption of the beverage.
Along with colleges and universities, states are taking action against the beverage. Michigan became the first state to outright ban the sale of Four Loko, while Utah has already banned alcoholic energy drinks altogether.
Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at GW, said he is concerned for students consuming the drink.
“Many people can drink alcohol without experiencing the sensation of being drunk – this is actually a brain defect and oftentimes leads to alcoholism,” Lieberman said. “This beverage artificially creates this defect and leads young people to consume more alcohol than they intend to or are accustomed to.”
Lieberman said college students are cost-conscious and therefore more likely to buy the energy drink over people who are actually of age to consume alcohol. Each can costs a little more than $2 at area liquor stores.
He said underage students have the least experience drinking and are exposed to an increased amount of negative effects from the drink.
Four Loko has been placed on the list of “The Five Most Toxic Drinks Known to Man” in Esquire magazine, right next to methanol and heroin cough syrup. It has been nicknamed “liquid cocaine,” “blackout in a can,” “a binge-drinker’s dream,” and is most popular among the 25 or more alcoholic energy drinks currently on the market, the Washington Examiner reported.