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Four Loko deemed 'liquid cocaine'

By Greg Doyle
On September 16, 2010

With the onset of the fall semester came the emergence of Four Loko –– a new alcoholic energy drink that University administrators fear poses serious health risks for its consumers.

Produced by Phusion Products, Inc., Four Loko is sold in 24 oz. cans with an alcohol content of 12 percent. In addition, the alcoholic energy drink contains high levels of caffeine and taurine, a bile that is found in the intestines of most mammals. What's more, Four Loko contains wormwood –– an ingredient that is also present in absinthe. 

Despite having the alcohol equivalence of three beers, the colorful cans –– which correspond to one of the drink's eight fruity flavors –– are often mistaken by store owners as a nonalcoholic energy drink, according to a CBS New York article, "It's Crazy Kids Can Buy ‘Four Loko' Energy Drink." As a result, underage customers have been granted access to the drink. Since its launch in 2005, Four Loko has received national attention for its dangers, but only recently has the University taken action against the alcoholic energy drink.

Ryan Rost, assistant dean of Judicial Affairs, first heard of Four Loko over the summer, while listening to the radio.

"I was immediately concerned, and as soon as I understood what it was, I began looking up information on the drink," Rost said. "I then sent what I found around to Dean Pugh, Margo Matt and my colleagues in the Office of Health Promotion."

Despite being relatively new to campus, Four Loko is already being addressed by administrators, who wish to introduce students to the risks involved with drinking the alcoholic energy drink.

According to a study completed by Wake Forest University's School of Medicine, mixing alcohol with an energy drink encourages binge drinking and increases the likelihood of blacking out, injuries, sexual abuse and the need for medical attention. 

However, the effects of Four Loko and other caffeinated cocktails begin at a biological level, according to Margo Matt, assistant dean of students for alcohol and drug intervention.

"When someone consumes alcohol, it is an anesthesia that slows down the respiration, heart rate, reactions and so on," Matt said. "Caffeine is a stimulant which increases the heart and respiration, and if someone has had too much, it certainly makes him or her hyper-vigilant and fidgety. "

Nationally, hospitals have reported Four Loko to be the cause of some of their patients' afflictions, and according to the CBS New York Four Loko was deemed "liquid cocaine" for its serious health risks. 

Such severe consequences have not been seen on campus, although the drink has begun to appear in incident reports. Because of the higher alcohol content, a fine for drinking a can of Four Loko underage is more than for a can of beer, according to Rost.

"We try to base fines and penalties on what the violation is and what the dangers associated with the violation are," Rost said. "We want students to learn from these mistakes."

The University has assumed a more proactive approach to educating students on the adverse effects of Four Loko. Rather than learning their lesson after the fact, students can discover the health risks of drinking Four Loko through upcoming events and information sessions, hosted by the Office of Health Promotions.

"Any way that we can educate students on the health risks of Four Loko is our priority," Rost said.

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