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‘Blackout in a can’ blacklisted

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Ramapo College in New Jersey banned Four Loko, an energy drink laced with alcohol, early this month after school officials linked the so-called “blackout in a can” to 23 hospitalizations. Although college administrators, attorneys general and the FDA have begun investigations to evaluate the safety of drinks like Four Loko, Stanford sees no need for immediate action on campus.

“If it becomes an issue where we were seeing problems arise, we’d look into it,” said Ralph Castro, Alcohol and Drug Educator at Vaden Health Center, “but at this point, we haven’t seen or heard anything related to that.”

Currently, Stanford has no rules banning or restricting the mixing of alcohol and caffeinated beverages, and that is likely to remain true. Castro said he sees measures banning the drink as the most effective, but rather prefers to offer comprehensive education.

“It’s easier to give people the skills not to over-drink.” he noted. “We can tell them, ‘Don’t drink one thing,’ but it’s really, ‘Don’t over-drink anything.’”

But that is not to say that the health hazards of mixing alcohol and caffeine have gone unnoticed.

Produced by Drink Four Brewing Company, Four Loko is marketed as a “premium caffeinated alcohol beverage.” According to its website, the drink was created by three students from Ohio State who, after seeing the popularity of mixing drinks like Red Bull and Vodka, decided to create their own alcoholic energy-drink.

Sold in a brightly colored, 23.5 ounce serving, one can of Four Loko contains about four beers’ worth of alcohol along with caffeine, taurine and guarana. Its fruity taste and relative cheapness, averaging $2 to $3 per can, makes it especially popular among young drinkers. Introduced in 2005, its success has drawn notice and occasional ire from health advocates and government organizations.

In fact, a study from November 2009 by professors at the University of Florida concluded that a person who consumes energy drinks and alcohol is four times as likely to attempt to drive than a person who simply consumes alcohol, and a 2008 study from Wake Forest University had similar results, finding students who consumed alcoholic energy drinks were more likely to receive an alcohol-related injury than someone who consumed solely alcohol.

While the FDA sent a letter to the manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks in November 2009, giving them 30 days to prove the safety of the drinks, no further action was taken against the companies or their products, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the California Attorney General’s office continues investigations on the marketing strategies of companies that distribute beverages like Four Loko, stating in 2008 that “research has shown [these drinks] are particularly appealing to underage drinkers.”

In an earlier version of this story, The Daily reported in an accompanying graphic that one can of Four Loko had the equivalent alcohol content as three beers. The story stated it held the alcohol content of four beers. In fact, a can of Four Loko is 12 percent alcohol by volume in a 23.5-ounce can, putting it at about 4.7 beers per can of Four Loko when considering a can of beer as 5 percent alcohol by volume.

Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.