Advocates have long called for change, their arguments fueled by various tragedies and resulting lawsuits related to energy drinks, among others. However, a blog entry back in May and published by the New York Times Blogs (5/18/15) intensifies the focus on the dangers of unregulated supplements and caffeine powder, in particular.
Caffeine is something we think we know, found as it is in everything from coffee, to soft drinks, energy drinks, even chocolate. But the caffeine levels in these products are found in trace amounts at best. Pure caffeine can, is and has been lethal.
Murray Carpenter, writing in the New York Times Blogs, notes that pure caffeine powder is widely available as a supplement. A teaspoon of caffeine powder is roughly equivalent to that found in 16-25 cups of coffee. A tablespoon of caffeine powder, or about 10 grams, is lethal for an adult. And yet, packages of pure caffeine powder containing about 100 grams - as much caffeine as would be found in 400 cups of Starbucks coffee (the big gulps), 1,250 energy drinks such as Red Bull or Monster - or 3,000 cans of Coca-Cola - can be had for $10.00 from almost anywhere.
Packages of caffeine powder have been and continue to be sold in stores that feature herbal supplements and stocked alongside vitamins and protein powders. Lawmakers are trying to get caffeine powder off store shelves, but the product remains widely available online. Some manufacturers spell out the risks on product labels; however, with supplements, labeling is voluntary.
It’s hard to say if proper labeling might have saved the lives of two young men who used caffeine powder for the hoped-for energy lift the product was expected to deliver. Consumers, by and large, don’t read labels unless they are mandated to be thorough and obvious through the process of regulation. To review, supplements are not regulated, and voluntary labeling tends to be minimalistic at best.
There have been deaths. James Wade Sweatt was a 24-year-old college grad from Georgia. Newly married, Sweatt decided to mix some caffeine powder purchased online with water in order to gain a quick burst of energy. It is not known how much caffeine powder he used. However, Sweatt overdosed on pure caffeine, fell into a coma and died.
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That was last May. This past March the Stiners filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Amazon and other vendors, as well as the friend who gave Logan Stiner the caffeine powder.
There have long been calls for the herbal supplement industry to carry the same degree of regulation required of food and pharmaceuticals. Health advocates are frustrated at the slow pace of change, leading to further angst and threat of further health supplement litigation.