‘Blackout in a can’ causes controversy

Some call it “blackout in a can” or better yet, “liquid cocaine.”

Whatever consumers are calling it, Four Loko is the most recent trend in alcohol that has states across the nation in a frenzy.

Four Loko, an alcoholic energy drink, hit the markets in August 2008 under the Phusion Projects, LLC according to the company’s website, drinkfour.com.

The website says Phusion Projects, LLC was started by three graduates of Ohio State University in 2005. The group has been under scrutiny from both the government and media since several college-aged students across the nation have been hospitalized after drinking its products.

The most notable of these incidents occurred last October when nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko at a house party.

Four Loko is one of about 40 caffeinated alcoholic beverages that are being tested for safety and legality by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to drinkfour.com.

Upon entering the website, visitors are encouraged to read “An open letter to state and federal regulators,” in which the founders of Phusion Projects, LLC explain their willingness to follow all laws and regulations concerning their products.

“Until the FDA concludes its examination, our intent and our commitment to you is that if you reach the conclusion that combining caffeine with either malt or liquor-based alcohols is unsafe, we will abide by any industrywide, uniform standards that the appropriate governing bodies may develop,” the letter reads.

In addition, the letter also says that precautions have already been taken by Phusion Projects, LLC, visible in the large warnings and labels on their products.

The letter states, “This is something our company has a history of doing. We added multiple additional label warnings to our cans at the request of regulators. Our alcoholby- volume warnings are in a font as large as is allowed by law. And where required, we sell versions of our product with reduced alcohol content.”

According to a Drug Free Marion County release, the product was legislatively banned in Michigan on Nov. 3 and in Washington starting tomorrow.

As of yesterday, the drink has also been banned in New York.

In other states, such as Pennsylvania and Indiana, alcoholic beverage commissions are asking retailers to participate in a voluntary ban.

The Drug Free Marion County release claims that the danger of the drink is the 12 percent alcohol content—the equivalent of 2-4 beers—and the combination of 156 milligrams of caffeine—four and a half times the amount of caffeine in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola. The caffeine acts as a stimulant while the alcohol acts as a depressant, masking the effects of the alcohol so consumers are more drunk than they realize.

Butler University Chief of Police Ben Hunter said, as a university based department, this is a concern that has been addressed to the force. He said the most evidence of the product that has been seen on campus was a crushed Four Loko can on the lawn in front of Schwitzer Hall.

“We have not really seen the product prevalent on campus,” Hunter said. “But keep in mind that when we get called to a scene, we ask what the students have been consuming, but do not necessarily investigate the scene.

“I’m sure it’s out there though.” Hunter said he thinks the product is “absolutely” targeted at college students because the product is inexpensive and advertised as such.

“The founders reference their college years on the website, so the sense of reaching out to the younger population is definitely implied,” he said.

Though Hunter said he didn’t think there was an inherent difference between Four Loko and mixing energy drinks such as Red Bull with liquor, he said the danger of Four Loko is the size of the can, the cost and the availability of the alcohol.

“We’ve seen higher BAC levels in the past couple of years than usual and that’s a huge concern,” he said. “Though I can’t directly pinpoint the exact cause, I would say the availability of energy drink products and mixing with alcohol is definitely part of the source.”

Hunter said he encourages students to keep in mind the idea of a “community of care” while drinking and be responsible for not only themselves, but those around them as well.

Though the Four Loko website claims there are no retailers within 100 miles of the Indianapolis area that sell the product, students who wished to remain anonymous said there are places where the drinks are available. One of the retailers where the product is still sold, who wished to remain anonymous, said the drinks were by far the most popular among the college-aged crowd.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s always a younger person that comes in looking for Four Loko,” the store manager said. “I would say our biggest purchasers are between 21 and 25.

“Most often, the consumers are buying the product in bulk rather than an individual drink form.”

The manager said he doesn’t plan to take the product off the shelves until there is a governmental ban placed on the product.

“I have a business to maintain,” he said. “People know the effects of the drink and the potential dangers and if they don’t, there are labels on the can to warn them.

“It’s our job as retailers to sell products, not to determine what people should and should not be drinking.”

Hunter said he encourages students to be careful and think of others whenever consuming any alcoholic products.

“Its fun to watch Animal House,” Hunter said. “It’s not fun to live it or live next to it.”