By BARRY MEIER
New York Times
Five people may have died in recent years after drinking Monster Energy, a popular energy drink that is high in caffeine, according to incident reports by the Food and Drug Administration.
The reports, like similar filings made with the FDA in cases connected with drugs or medical devices, do not prove a link between Monster Energy and the deaths or health problems. The records were recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the mother of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died in December from a heart arrhythmia after drinking large cans of Monster Energy on two consecutive days.
Last week, Wendy Crossland, the mother of that teenager, filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverages, a publicly traded company in Corona, Calif., that used to be known as Hansen Natural. The lawsuit charges that Monster failed to warn about the risks of its energy drinks; a spokeswoman for the company said last week that its products were safe and not the cause of the teenager's death.
An FDA spokeswoman, Shelly Burgess, said the agency had received reports of five deaths possibly linked to the drink as well as another report of a heart attack. The reports cover a period of 2004 to June of this year.
The reports do not make clear whether the incidents involved other factors, like alcohol or drugs. However, the number of reports that the FDA receives about any product it regulates usually understates by a large degree the actual number of problems.
In a statement, Burgess said it was the responsibility of energy drink manufacturers to investigate accusations of death or injuries associated with them. She said the FDA was still looking into the cases but had yet to establish a causal link between the deaths and the drink.
Monster Energy did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the FDA filings.
Under current FDA rules, companies do not need to disclose caffeine levels in their beverages and can choose to market them as drinks or as dietary supplements.
The lawsuit filed last week on behalf of the teenager referred to autopsy and medical examiner reports that said she had died of "cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity" that had exacerbated an existing heart problem.