St. Joe's students sickened living La Vida Loko: Drank beverage equal to many beers, lots of coffee

Posted: November 12, 2010

Saint Joseph's University confirms that a handful of students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, a fruit-flavored, caffeinated malt-liquor beverage.

The drink has the same amount of liquor as three or more beers and as much caffeine as several cups of coffee, authorities say.

"We're not talking about epidemic numbers," Cary Anderson, vice president of the Office of Student Life, said of the students taken to hospitals.

He declined to give a specific number of students who are believed to have been sickened by the controversial drink, but said "we started seeing Four Loko come up as something that people had been drinking that got them to the point where they needed hospitalization."

Michigan banned the alcohol-energy drinks after nine students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in Washington state earlier this year and legislators in Pennsylvania and other states are talking about banning them.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently asked 17,000 licensed businesses, distributors and wholesalers to take the caffeinated alcoholic drinks off the shelf until the federal Food and Drug Administration can conclude an investigation into their safety.

It said that the drinks can contain as much as 12 percent alcohol, which is the equivalent of five or six beers. Continued drinking can raise the blood-alcohol content to dangerous levels.

Anderson said that, for privacy reasons, hospitals didn't inform the school of what made the students ill, how seriously they were sickened or what part the alcohol-energy drink played.

The information about the energy drinks came to light after ill St. Joe's students were asked what they had to drink so that emergency responders could treat them, Anderson said.

"Usually what happens is, people will be somewhere consuming alcohol off campus and then, when they return to campus, we'll find out. It might be through a friend or a roommate who is concerned."

Phusion Projects LLC, the maker of Four Loko, defended the drink, saying that it was marketed only to adults, and sold in 6 or 12 percent alcohol contents, depending on the state. It compared the amount of caffeine in Four Loko to a cup of tall Starbucks coffee.

It said that the cans have warnings, and that ID is required to buy them.

"Having coffee after a meal with wine, or consuming rum and cola, an Irish coffee or a Red Bull and vodka are all popular practices," the company said.

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