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“Four” is a line of alcoholic energy drinks manufactured and sold by Phusion Projects LLC. The name is derived from the drink’s original four main ingredients: alcohol, caffeine, guarana, and taurine-one depressant and three stimulants. In 2007, Phusion reformulated its original Four Regular. It increased the serving size to 23.5 ounces and doubled the alcohol to 12% ABV. The reformulated product was called “FOUR LOKO.” One lawsuit in Florida, Keiran v. Phusion Projects, LLC, et al., alleges that FOUR LOKO also contained the stimulant, wormwood, the active ingredient in absinthe.

One single serving of FOUR LOKO contained the same amount of alcohol as 4-6 beers and the same amount of caffeine as one would get from 4-6 cups of coffee, plus two or three other stimulants. As part of the reformulation, the can was re-designed to more closely resemble the energy drinks that it was sold next to in convenience stores. FOUR LOKO also contains carbonated water, sugar, and natural and artificial flavoring, It comes in eight flavors: Blue Rasberry, Cranberry Lemonade, Fruit Punch, Lemonade, Lemon Lime, Orange, Uva (Grape), and Watermelon. Considering the packaging and flavors, it is reasonable to conclude that the drink was marketed and designed to attract young drinkers.

Clinical studies show that simultaneous ingestion of caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, other stimulants, and alcohol, reduces one’s perception of alcohol-induced impairment as compaired to ingestion of alcohol alone. After only one can of FOUR LOKO, a person has consumed enough alchohol to be legally intoxicated. Instead of fatiguing or passing out as one would normally do if one continued drinking a product containing this much alcohol, the consumer of FOUR LOKO experiences the phenomenon of being drunk yet wide awake. The result is that the person’s perception about his or her own level of intoxication is severly altered, allowing the person to drink far beyond their typical stopping point and become far more drunk that they would if they had been drinking only alchohol. Phusion’s position has been to argue that FOUR LOKO is being treated unfairly and is no different in concept than Irish Coffee or Rum and Coke. The fallacy of that public relations argument is that Irish Coffee does not contain four shots of whiskey and three other stimulants besides the coffee and is not marketed to binge-drinking young people. Indeed, even the Red Bull and Vodka drink which spawned the idea for FOUR REGULAR and FOUR LOKO, typically containes only one serving of vodka per drink, not four to five.

Last year, FOUR LOKO was implicated in a number of high profile injuries, illnesses, and incidents of bizarre behavior, including the following:

August- 20 year old drunk driver who had consumed FOUR LOKO and liquor killed a father and three sons.

September- following the hospitalization of 17 students and 6 visitors, Ramapo College of New Jersey banned the possession and consumption of FOUR LOKO on its campus. As a result, several universities, including Boston College, took similar action.

October- man arrested after breaking into home and defecating in the living room and kitchen; his last recollection is drinking FOUR LOKO.

October- numberous people admitted to PA hospital after drinking FOUR LOKO.

October- hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students following drinking of FOUR LOKO.

On November 17, 2010 the U.S. FDA issued a warning letter to four manufacturers of caffeinated alcohol beverages citing that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, may occur under federal law. It declared that beverages such as Four energy drinks that combine caffeine with alcohol are a “public health concern” and can’t stay on the market in their current form. In a press release, the FDA stated “there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.” FDA also stated that concerns have been raised that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication. Warning letters were issued to each of the four companies requiring them to provide to the FDA in writing within 15 days of the specific steps the firms will be taking.

The four companies receiving the warning letter are:

  • Charge Beverages Corp.: Core High Gravity HG, Core High Gravity HG Orange, and Lemon Lime Core Spiked
  • New Century Brewing Co., LLC: Moonshot
  • Phusion Projects, LLC (doing business as Drink Four Brewing Co.): Four Loko
  • United Brands Company Inc.: Joose and Max

On November 16, 2010, Phusion Products issued a press release announcing that it would reformulate all FOUR brand beverages to remove caffeine, guarana, and taurine from the products. In late December, the reformulated version began to appear in stores. The new product has the exact same design and alcohol content, yet sales have been very poor. However, as rumors swirled that the FDA would outright ban the drink, black market sales of the old version of the product are brisk. In addition, an undercover sting this week in Chesterfield, Virginia revealed that the old version of FOUR LOKO is still being sold on shelves.

Talk to your high school and college-aged children about this problem. A study done at the University of Florida found that students who mixed caffeine and alcohol thought they were capable of driving more often than those who drank alcohol only.

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