Shot of concern: The FDA is right to investigate energy drinks

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The manufacturers of 5-Hour Energy Shots don't want you to think about how much caffeine is in each 2-ounce bottle. To say they contain a lot would be an understatement.

Students cramming for exams rely on them. Office workers trying to beat the midday slump swear by them. For those on a deadline who can't afford to sleep, resorting to a 5-Hour Energy Shot seems reasonable.

However, since 2009 consumption of 5-Hour Energy Shots has been linked to 13 deaths, 33 hospitalizations and 92 other reports, causing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin an investigation.

One consumer watchdog put the level of caffeine in a 2-ounce bottle at 215 milligrams. An eight-ounce cup of coffee contains up to 150 milligrams. Because 5-Hour Energy Shots come in a variety of flavors, it's easy to consume more than one at a time. Even if a person drinks only two, that's an unusually large amount of caffeine hitting the nervous system at once.

Living Essentials, which makes the drink, insists that its product is safe when used properly and that no deaths or injuries have been conclusively connected to it. Still, the company doesn't believe that more FDA oversight is warranted. It considers additional warning labels to be overkill, too. A bill introduced in Congress last year to regulate the product has gone nowhere because of industry resistance.

Meaningful studies of the product have yet to be conducted, so reports about deaths and injuries sound anecdotal. Still, there's no reason for the FDA to wait for industry permission to determine if the product can be safely consumed. Because of the popularity of the drink and the number of lives at stake, the federal agency should make determining its safety a top priority.

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