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Alleged Rapist's Four Loko Defense

Inae Oh   |   October 24, 2012    1:04 PM ET

The homeless man arrested for raping a 21-year-old woman in Hudson River Park in September reportedly told police he can't remember committing any crime because he had consumed five Four Loko's before passing out.

Jonathan Stewart told arresting officers, "Did I do something wrong, because I don't remember because I had Four Lokos. I don't know what's going on. I just woke up."

The Daily News reports Stewart also told police he had spent the night partying with his cousin in a Lower East Side housing project, drinking Grey Goose Vodka and Four Lokos while smoking marijuana and K2.

He also said he had considered committing suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge because he had "been through so much."

Four Loko has an alcohol content of 12 percent and is known for its intoxicating effects. Four Loko's manufacturer was forced to remove the caffeine from its original recipe in anticipation of an imminent FDA crackdown.

In September, Stewart was arrested for raping and assaulting a woman who was sitting on a park bench early one morning.

He sat down next to the victim and attempted to strike a conversation, before he suddenly punched her in the face and dragged her into nearby bushes where he raped her.

Stewart, who has a history of sexual assault, was found hiding behind a nearby median. At his indictment earlier on Tuesday, prosecutor Alyssa Gunther said the District Attorney's office would not settle on anything less than 40 years in prison for the horrific rape.

As of late September, the number of rapes and attempted rapes in the city had increased by more than 4 percent.

Meredith Bennett-Smith   |   July 26, 2012    4:30 PM ET

New research set to be published by the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has found a link between the consumption of caffeinated energy drinks mixed with alcohol and casual -- and often risky -- sex among college-age adults. The study also found, however, that consumption of such alcoholic combinations is not a significant predictor of whether or not the boozing students used a condom during sex.

This part of the study, authored by Kathleen E. Miller, a senior research scientist at the University of Buffalo's RIA, found that co-eds who drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks such as Red Bull or Monster were more likely to report having a casual partner or being intoxicated during their last sexual encounter.

Miller was motivated in part by a desire to research the contributing factors of the prevalent "hook-up" culture observed on many college campuses, and partly by observing the jitters of a 16-year-old family friend who was "drinking buckets of Red Bull," Miller told The Huffington Post.

In fact, Miller added the questions about alcohol and caffeine at the last minute, as an afterthought to a questionnaire originally created to compare the affects of energy drinks on various populations. But as it happened, the alcohol results "turned out to be spectacularly significant in ways I didn't anticipate," she told HuffPost.

Previous research has linked energy drink consumption with other dangerous behaviors including driving while intoxicated, binge drinking and fighting. But this study primarily cited risks specific to drunken sex, including unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, rape and depression.

"Drinking energy drinks in general and alcohol and energy drinks combined is associated with a whole lot of risky behaviors," Miller said. "This doesn't mean [drinking these types of drinks] is causal, but it's a really good indicator."

Although the survey also does not link this type of drinking to sexual assault, Buzzfeed points out that a 2007 Wake Forest University School of Medicine study did indicate college students imbibing caffeine/alcohol combination beverages "were more than twice as likely to take advantage of someone else sexually, and almost twice as likely to be taken advantage of sexually."

Many will remember the controversy surrounding Four Loko beverages, a combination alcohol-caffeine drink that came in a 23 ounce container and was often nicknamed "Blackout in a Can." In 2010 the US Food and Drug Administration forced Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects, LLC to remove the caffeine; a controversial decision that led some consumer groups to protest what they saw as the growth of the "nanny state," the Christian Science Monitor reported.

The Center for Disease Control has even devoted a "fact sheet" to warning of the dangers of mixing the two substances.

And while "your average Red Bull and vodka is not as strong as [Four Loko]," Miller said, "It is still potentially risky because you are masking some of the affects of the alcohol. It's just a bad idea all around."

Energy drinks have "stronger priming effects than alcohol alone," the researcher elaborated in comments released by the University of Buffalo. "In other words, they increase the craving for another drink, so that you end up drinking more overall."

The more snarky individual may be asking, well, isn't this kind of obvious?

But Miller says this is not necessarily the case.

"Ideally, I'd like to see a public education campaign come out of this," she said. "Knowledge is power. Energy drinks have been here for awhile, but we still know every little about them. Every red bull can should have a large label that says, 'Don't mix this with alcohol, stupid!'"

Miller studied 648 participants (47.5 percent female) enrolled in intro-level courses at a large public university. They ranged in age from 18 to 40 but generally tended to belong to the lower half of the spectrum. The study will eventually be published in the print edition of the Journal of Caffeine Research but is already available online to subscribers of the journal as part of a larger three-year research project by Miller, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

By JENNIFER C. KERR   |   March 1, 2012    8:44 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A carbonated brew guzzled on college campuses is the focus of an intense write-in campaign urging federal regulators to take some buzz out of a sweet alcoholic drink sometimes referred to as "blackout in a can."

The Federal Trade Commission is looking at a wave of complaints about the popular fruit-flavored malt liquor Four Loko. Under review: the amount of alcohol in the brightly colored, supersized cans and how they are marketed.

  |   February 20, 2012    5:13 PM ET

TOWSON, Md. — The Associated Press has withdrawn its story about a Maryland teenager who died after falling out of a moving car because some previous versions, a0793 and a0808, referenced the drink Four Loko when it is not clear what drink the teenager had. Members should use a0960, which moved at 11:03 p.m.

The AP

Beer Wholesalers Join Public Health to Oppose Four Loko Settlement

Michele Simon   |   January 18, 2012    5:15 PM ET

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission took public comments on a proposed settlement with the alcohol company Phusion Projects, which makes a beverage line called Four Loko. You might recall in 2010 how that product gained much notoriety for sending scores of college students to the emergency room as a result of its dangerous combination of alcohol with caffeine. In a rare victory of government action in favor of public safety, in November 2010, the Food and Drug Administration forced Phusion and other companies to remove the caffeine. (Read my case study here.) But of course, the story doesn't end there, as these companies always have another trick up their sleeve to get youth hooked.

Now, the "caffeine-free" versions of these highly sweet, soda-like concoctions known as alcopops have grown to high-octane super-size cans, containing as much as 4-5 servings of alcohol, and all for the price of a cheap beer. Public health advocates, policymakers, and state attorneys general have been trying to bring these products down to size through a variety of legal measures. Now comes the Federal Trade Commission with its proposed agreement with Phusion Projects, not to actually reduce the container size or amount of alcohol. But rather, to require better labeling, which will serve as a great advertisement.

That's why I asked colleagues and groups to sign on my letter in opposition to the proposal. Numerous others submitted similar comments raising many objections, including the American Medical Association, the New York City health department, and Public Health Law and Policy. Most importantly, a strong group of state attorneys general who have been working on this issue for years raised five pages worth of objections in their impressive letter. (It was thanks to these state officials that FDA acted on the caffeine.)

In addition, several industry members took the side of public health, and not just for the usual self-serving reasons. For several years, I called upon beer wholesalers to speak out against dangerous products such as caffeinated alcoholic beverages. While several business owners expressed to me privately that they hated these youth-oriented beverages, (and the bad publicity that accompanies them) none took a public stand against them. I am therefore happy to report that the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a powerful lobbying group, wrote a pretty strong letter to oppose the agreement. From their comments:"The label contemplated by the proposed settlement could actually serve to entice consumers, especially younger ones seeking high-alcohol, low-priced products, to possibly over consume these products."

This important point made by myself and others is not the sort of rhetoric we are used to hearing from the likes of beer lobbyists. In addition to this large trade group being on the right side of the issue, several individual beer distributors also opposed the settlement. For example, John Dickerson, a distributor based in Ohio signed on to my letter. Also, Robert Archer, president of Blue Ridge Beverage, wrote his own very strong letter, saying that "the issues surrounding large containers and high alcohol content are not effectively addressed simply by putting a 'message' on the container." His comments are especially significant because Archer is next in line to become chair of the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

As someone whose work is centered around criticizing industry for its misdeeds and disingenuous pro-health positions, it's rare for me to give praise. But this show of support for public health from beer wholesalers and their lobbyists is genuine, and should be applauded as a true sign of progress.

Let's hope the Federal Trade Commission hears our collective concerns and either proposes a more effective solution or allows states to assert their legal authority to do a better job.

This post first appeared on Appetite for Profit.

Christopher Mathias   |   December 22, 2011   11:50 AM ET

New York's resident party-pooper and senior United States senator Chuck Schumer is looking to stall the sale of an inhalable caffeine product set to hit shelves in January.

Aeroshot, a "first-of-its-kind breathable energy product" created by a Harvard professor, packs the punch of a large Starbucks coffee, or about 100mg of caffeine, without any calories in a few quick puffs out of a chapstick-sized inhaler.

Currently on sale in France, the Aeroshot has apparently skirted the FDA thus far by claiming it's a vitamin supplement (it contains B vitamins.)

Senator Schumer, however, isn't buying it.

"This product is nothing more than a party enhancer, designed to give users the ability to drink until they drop and it promotes dangerously excessive consumption of caffeine among youngsters and teens," said Schumer, in a press release. "The product has never been tested for safety by the FDA, particularly among children and teens, and there are absolutely no controls on who can purchase it and how much they can ingest."

And judging from this Parisian promotional video, it seems Aeroshot is being marketed more as a party-drug than a morning pick-me-up:

The company, Breathable Foods, says AeroShot is safe but is not intended for children under 12.

Schumer, who's effectively crusaded against Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage and bath salts (which really mess people up), has written a letter to the FDA urging the agency to review the safety and legality of Aeroshot, and to force the company to "provide adequate evidence to substantiate its health and safety claims."

  |   October 3, 2011    3:14 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The makers of the alcoholic drink Four Loko have agreed to change its labeling and packaging to settle Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising.

The FTC says Phusion Projects falsely claimed that a 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko, at 11 or 12 percent alcohol, had the same amount of alcohol as one or two typical 12-ounce beers and a consumer could drink a whole Four Loko safely in its entirety on a single occasion.

Caffeinated Beer Banned In California

Eliza Fisher   |   August 2, 2011    1:06 PM ET

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 39, banning the sale and production of caffeinated beer in California after January 1, reports the LA Times.

The Sacramento Bee reports that California is the seventh state to ban caffeinated beer, and that most manufacturers are changing their formulas to exclude caffeine.

The FDA has already moved to block production and sale of such beverages nationwide, notes California's Capitol. In November 2010, the FDA sent a warning letter to four major alcohol companies, including the makers of the infamous Four Loko, to stop producing the drinks with caffeine added as a separate ingredient. All the manufacturers have since complied.

But, as points out, there is a difference between beverages that are brewed with coffee and other naturally caffeinated ingredients and beverages that contain caffeine as a separate added ingredient -- the latter being banned by the new law. This California bill, then, does not put an end to brews like Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout, Mateveza Yerba Mate IPA, or Meantime Coffee Porter, which are all brewed with coffee, coffee beans, or herbal tea.

This and other bans come after a string of incidents involving the hospitalization of young drinkers who consumed alcohol mixed with caffeine. CNN tells us that in October 2010, nine underage students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after imbibing Four Loko. In New Jersey, 23 Ramapo College students were hospitalized after drinking the same beverage. College Binge Drinking reports that in 2010, a 20-year-old Florida student shot and killed himself after binging for 30 hours on Four Loko.

CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to clarify the difference between which caffeinated alcoholic beverages are banned, and which are still legal.

Katla McGlynn   |   July 1, 2011    7:55 AM ET

When you need to have a quick lunch, you're going to be looking for cheap, convenient food. Thus, the combo deal. But let's face it, the typical fries or drink options have gotten boring. When are they going to come up with something new?

Apparently, now. One Redditer posted this snapshot of a combo deal consisting of a can of Four Loko and a slice of pizza, proving once and for all that the American dream is still alive.

On the other hand, gross.


Catherine Pearson   |   May 25, 2011   12:17 PM ET

The manufacturer of Four Loko may have removed caffeine from the drink in advance of a Food and Drug Administration crackdown on caffeinated alcoholic beverages last fall, but a new report suggests that the canned cocktail may still have hyper-intoxicating effects -- regardless of the reformulation.

In an article for the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, Dr. Shepard Siegel of McMaster University in Canada said Four Loko -- and other similarly sweet alcoholic beverages -- may be particularly "effective intoxicants." The reason? They provide a novel flavor context for the alcohol.

Siegel claimed that flavor cues help the body prepare for the effects of alcohol on the system. But when that alcohol is masked by sweet flavors, drinkers' bodies cannot partake in what he dubs "anticipatory responding." That, in turn, leads them to experience the full response to the alcohol.

"You can have a similar experience where you might typically have a cocktail in the evening, but if you decide instead to drink the same amount in the afternoon, you could feel more intoxicated," he said in a phone interview Monday. "When you consume a drug in circumstances not previously associated with the drug, it can have a more profound effect."

The issue is particularly timely given Four Loko has just released a new flavor -- Blueberry Lemonade -- as part of its line of limited edition flavors. Siegel says that it could become more difficult for people to build up tolerances to the new flavors, which means the beverages could have what he calls "extraordinary intoxicating effects."

In the article, Siegel also acknowledged that Four Loko has an alcohol content of 12 percent, which could account for its intoxicating effects. "Based strictly on pharmacology," he wrote, "Four Loko should have about the same effect as a bottle of wine."

For its part, Phusion Projects, which manufactures the drink, dismissed the researcher's claims, saying that Four Loko is hardly the only drink of its kind and associating fruity flavors with alcohol is nothing new.

"There are many other malt beverages with flavors similar to our products on the market, as well as sweetened and fruit flavored vodkas and rums," a company spokesperson wrote in an email. "Like our peers in the industry, we introduce new flavors for the same reason clothing and car designers introduce new colors -- our consumers want and enjoy them."

Family Sues Four Loko Over Teen's Death

Jen Sabella   |   May 19, 2011   12:45 PM ET

The family of a 15-year-old boy who reportedly died after drinking two cans of high-alcohol energy drink Four Loko has sued the Chicago-based company, saying company negligence led to his death.

John and Karla Rupp, from the suburbs of Washington D.C., claim their son John "Bo" Rupp consumed two cans of the beverage during a concert last September, the boy's mother told reporters Thursday. Concert staff reportedly contacted Bo's mother after noticing that he "appeared extremely intoxicated."

After acting "paranoid and disoriented" on the ride home with his mother, the family claims Bo took off running upon arrival at his suburban home. He was then fatally struck by a car after running into a busy road.

"We could hear the ambulance sirens from our home," Karla Rupp said, according to a news release. "My husband and I just knew the sirens were for Bo. It was a parent's worst nightmare come true.''

The family filed a wrongful death suit against Phusion Projects, the makers of Four Loko, in Cook County Circuit court Thursday, claiming the company "was careless and negligent in formulating a caffeinated, alcoholic beverage that desensitizes users to the symptoms of intoxication, and increases the potential for alcohol-related harm."

After multiple reports of blackouts and injuries linked to Four Loko, several college campuses banned the beverage in 2010. The FDA eventually forced Phusion to remove caffeine from the beverage, but the high alcohol content remains. One 23-ounce can contains nearly as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer, according to the lawsuit. Critics of the beverage have also accused the company of targeting underage drinkers with its fruit flavors.

"I hope other parents will talk to their children about this drink,'' Karla Rupp said in a statement. "We don't want any other family to go through the sheer terror of losing a child.''

One of the family's lawyers, Jeffrey Simon, said the teen would have vomited or passed out if he overindulged on almost any other alcoholic beverage.

"This was a boy who was raised by concerned parents, who had a stable home life and lots of friends," Simon said in a statement. "What killed him was not the type of alcohol that adults might serve at a party. Four Loko is so deliberately different — it's sweet and fruity and marketed directly at the underage crowd – that it is far more dangerous than other drinks. And the founders of Four Loko knew that from the beginning."

Phusion told the Chicago Sun-Times it plans to fight the lawsuit in court, and denies marketing to underage drinkers.

  |   April 25, 2011   12:25 PM ET

Before it was banned nationwide, Four Loko, the wildly popular energy beer denounced by the White House as "liquid cocaine," was blamed for a surge in underage binge drinking, scores of date rapes, and a vicious gay bashing. Shocked by the criticism, the company's young founders dodged the press for almost a year. But last month The Fix convinced them to tell their story for the first time.

  |   March 22, 2011    8:54 AM ET

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A New Jersey man who says he suffered permanent heart damage after drinking the alcohol- and caffeine-laced Four Loko beverage is suing its manufacturer.

Tire salesman Michael Mustica of Knowlton Township filed the lawsuit last week against Phusion Projects.

  |   March 18, 2011    8:48 AM ET

Combine a moody chef angrily defying every health rule on the books, a cholesterol fest of cheese and fatty meats, and a disgusting eat-a-thon of greasy concoctions. What do you have? A YouTube hit series, of course. Bad boy chef Harley Morenstein hurls packages of bacon and ham into his supermarket cart, and slams around pots and pan to stir up a meal of his cheesiest, greasiest "Chili Four Loko" in one episode of Epic Meal Time ("Cakezilla" and "Ice Cream Pizza" are two other memorable meals).

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