12 INVESTIGATES: The dangers of energy drink abuse

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched an investigation this month into the safety - and reported deaths - from energy drinks. They're looking into whether these drinks are linked to 18 deaths and more than a hundred injuries.

Student, Nakai Johnson is very familiar with monster energy drinks, "I have three 8 o'clock classes, so every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I'm drinking like two a day." She's never had a bad side effect, but there are plenty of people who say they have.

One teen's parents even filed a lawsuit. Anais Fournier died after reportedly drinking two Monsters within a 24-hour span. Her lawyer says the boost of caffeine turned an unknown heart condition deadly.

"You've got drug interactions. You've got genetic predispositions or underlying conditions. And all of that can add up," said Janet Starkey, registered Dietician at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Starkey says death by caffeine overdose can happen, but it's rare.

"It does not surprise me. Some of the negative side effects of excess caffeine would warrant a visit to the emergency room," added Starkey.

According to a government survey of the nation's hospitals, in the last five years, emergency room visits involving energy drinks have doubled from 10,000 to more than 20,000. The cases often involve teens or young adults, mostly male.

Click here to read the government report

"The problem is often these things are not done in moderation," said Dr. Ruddy Rose, who runs VCU's Poison Control Center. "They're done in excess, and that's when you can start to see harm."

Rose says they've been getting around 30 calls a year for energy drink illnesses and that VCU's Emergency Room sees patients. "They've got a tremor, they feel agitated, their heart's beating too fast. They have nausea, they have vomiting," said Rose.

More than half the patients in that study told doctors they had only consumed the energy drink. The other half? 42% had combined it with alcohol or over the counter drugs - like Adderall and Ritalin.

Rose: "You feel awake enough to say that, 'Hey I'm awake. I can go get in the car or I can go do something.'"

DePompa: "It give people a false sense of how drunk they are?"

Rose: "That's a great way to put it."

Neither doctor we spoke with recommends the drinks, but they say if you must, moderation is key.

"Trying to find energy in a drink or a magic bullet is not the place to look for it," said Starkey.

Energy drink companies like Monster have issued statements, saying they are confident in the safety of their products and their ingredients. They cite a long track record and scientific evidence supporting their drinks.

No word on when the FDA will wrap up its investigation or if the agency will make any recommendations for changes.

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