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October 20, 2010: Based on a single case of a 19-year-old who came to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia with chest pains after drinking Four Loko, ABC News warns that the stuff, which contains about one-third as much caffeine per ounce as coffee, can cause fatal heart attacks in perfectly healthy people. “That was the only explanation we had,” says the doctor who treated the 19-year-old, before extrapolating further from his sample of one: “This is a dangerous product from what we’ve seen. It doesn’t have to be chronic use. I think it could happen to somebody on a first-time use.”
October 25, 2010: Citing the hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students for alcohol poisoning following an October 8 party in Roslyn where they drank Four Loko along with beer, rum, and vodka, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna calls for a ban on caffeinated malt liquor. “The wide availability of the alcoholic energy drinks means that a single mistake can be deadly,” he says. “They’re marketed to kids by using fruit flavors that mask the taste of alcohol, and they have such high levels of stimulants that people have no idea how inebriated they really are.” McKenna’s office cites Ken Briggs, chairman of the university’s physical education department, who says Four Loko is known as “liquid cocaine” as well as “blackout in a can,” and with good reason, since it is “a binge drinker’s dream.”
October 26, 2010: McKenna’s reaction to college students who drank too much Four Loko, like Peter Mercer’s at Ramapo, attracts national attention. A Pennsylvania E.R. doctor quoted by The New York Times calls Four Loko “a recipe for disaster” and “one of the most dangerous new alcohol concoctions I have ever seen.”
November 1, 2010: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board asks retailers to stop selling Four Loko, which is produced at the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe, because it may “pose a significant threat to the health of all Pennsylvanians.” State Rep. Robert Donatucci (D-Philadelphia) says “there is overriding circumstantial evidence that this combination may be very dangerous,” and “until we can determine its effect on people and what kind of danger it may present, it should be yanked from the shelves.”
November 3, 2010: Two Chicago aldermen propose an ordinance that would ban Four Loko from the city where its manufacturer is based. “I think it is completely irresponsible,” says one, “to manufacture and market a product that can make young people so intoxicated so fast.”
November 4, 2010: The Michigan Liquor Control Commission bans 55 “alcohol energy drinks,” including Four Loko, Joose, a “hard” iced tea that no longer exists, a cola-flavored variety of Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails, and an India pale ale brewed with yerba maté. “With all the things that are happening, it’s very alarming,” explains commission chairwoman Nida Samona. “It’s more serious than any of us ever imagined.”
November 8, 2010: Oklahoma’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission bans Four Loko from the state “in light of the growing scientific evidence against alcohol energy drinks, and the October 8th incident involving Four Loko in Roslyn, Washington.”
November 9, 2010: NPR quotes Washington State University student Jarod Franklin as an authority on Four Loko’s effects. “We would start to lose those inhibitions,” he says, “and then [it would be like], ‘How did you get a broken knuckle?’ ‘Oh, I punched through a three-inch layer of ice [because] you bet me I couldn’t.’ ”
November 10, 2010: The Washington State Liquor Control Board bans beverages that “combine beer, strong beer, or malt liquor with caffeine, guarana, taurine, or other similar substances.” Gov. Christine Gregoire, who recommended the ban, explains her reasoning: “I was particularly concerned that these drinks tend to target young people. Reports of inexperienced or underage drinkers consuming them in reckless amounts have given us cause for concern.…By taking these drinks off the shelves we are saying ‘no’ to irresponsible drinking and taking steps to prevent incidents like the one that made these college students so ill.”
Sen. Schumer urges the New York State Liquor Authority to “immediately ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages.” He says drinks like Four Loko “are a toxic, dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol, and they are spreading like a plague across the country.” Schumer claims “studies have shown that caffeinated alcoholic beverages raise unique and disturbing safety concerns, especially for younger drinkers.” While they “can be extremely hazardous for teens and adults alike,” he says, they “pose a unique danger because they target young people” with their “vibrantly colored aluminum can colors and funky designs.”
November 12, 2010: A CBS station in Baltimore reports that two cans of Four Loko caused a 21-year-old Maryland woman to “lose her mind,” steal a friend’s pickup truck, and crash it into a telephone pole, killing herself.
A CBS station in Philadelphia reports that a middle-aged suburban dad “spiraled into a hallucinogenic frenzy” featuring “nightmarish delusions” after drinking a can and a half of Four Loko. “It was like he was stuck inside a horror movie and he couldn’t get out and I couldn’t get him out,” the man’s wife says. “In his mind, he had harmed all of our kids and he had to kill me and kill himself so that we could go to heaven to take care of them. Next thing I know, he was having convulsions [and] making gurgling sounds as if someone were choking him, and then he stopped breathing.”
Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal urges the FDA to “impose a nationwide ban on these dangerous and potentially deadly drinks.”
November 14, 2010: Under pressure from Gov. David Paterson and the state liquor authority, Phusion Projects agrees to stop shipping Four Loko to New York. “We have an obligation to keep products that are potentially hazardous off the shelves,” says the liquor authority’s chairman.
Bruce Goldberger tells the New Haven Register Four Loko is “a very significant problem” for the “instant gratification generation.” The kids today, he says, “text, they have iPhones, and they can access the Internet any minute of their life. And now, they can get drunk for literally less than $5, and they can get drunk very rapidly.”