Commissioner Johnson warns community about trend Youth possessing alcoholic energy drinks in colorful cans

By Christina Gordon….

Vice Mayor Dorothy “Dottie” Johnson

“Kids in my community are taking this can, pouring it into THIS can,” exclaimed Vice Mayor Dorothy “Dottie” Johnson, during the November 10, 2010 City of Opa-locka Commission meeting, as she displayed the brightly colored empty can of the controversial fruit flavored, caffeinated, alcoholic energy drink called Four Loko, which has raised widespread community concern across the Country, and is being banned in Michigan, by way of a Liquor Control Commission Order signed in that state on November 3, 2010.

Demonstrating that the can is the same size and is similar in color to a popular brand can of Tea, Johnson stated that the “Loko” cans are sold in neighborhood grocery stores and that she is picking-up approximately 10 cans daily near the canal in front of her house. Johnson stated that when she approached a little boy and asked what he was doing, the youth replied, “This is some Strawberry Juice… I’m pouring it in this (tea) can.” The Vice Mayor asserted, “These kids are in elementary school, the ones I’ve seen… as a Commissioner, I am concerned that this is allowed to happen!”

According to the Associated Press, several states have considered outlawing the alcoholic energy drinks and at least two universities have banned them from campus, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews their safety. In Michigan, Commission spokeswoman Andrea Miller stated that the Commission voted 2:1 in favor of the ban at a licensing meeting and that manufacturers of alcohol energy drinks would have 30 days from the date of the issuance of order to remove those products.

The Associated Press also reported that in Washington, nine students who drank the alcohol energy drink were hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent, and a female student nearly died. Yet another report by the Detroit Free Press, involved a 14-year-old girl who was raped at a post-homecoming dance hotel party, after drinking Four Loko mixed with rum.

Mike Tobias, executive director of Michigan Alcohol Policy commented, “I think they’re clearly marketed toward teenagers and young adults.”  But Phusion Projects, LLC, manufacturer and distributer of the drink, in a statement, opposed the Commission’s decision saying, “We disagree with the recent decision …No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or used illegally, and we do everything in our power to prevent the sale of our products to anyone under the age of 21 and to educate consumers about how to enjoy them responsibly.”

While the alcohol content is noted on the can, Therese Doud, a substance abuse prevention coordinator for Washtenaw County Public Health Department said, “You have to look for it.” Like Tobias, Doud believes, “It’s pretty clear marketers of the drinks are selling to a young crowd.”  With very fine print, others commented that the labels on alcohol energy drinks, which look similar to the non-alcoholic energy drinks, can “take the fear out of buying” for the underage because, if or when asked for ID, as a “back-up” plan, the youth can plead ignorant by declaring a mistake was made or by claiming they thought they were purchasing a ‘normal’ energy drink.  Phusion Projects, LLC added in a statement that the company, “complied with the (FDA’s) requests.”

On the streets, this latest craze in energy drinks has been nicknamed “blackout in a can,” “liquid cocaine” and “coke in a can.”  White Plains Public Safety Commissioner, David Chong quickly inserted, “They don’t mean Coke-a-Cola!” A typical alcohol-energy drink is 24 ounces, which means Four Loko is twice the size of a can of soda and is packed with even more caffeine and sugar which is said to counteract its alcohol content of 12% (compared to a 12-ounce can of beer which normally contains 4 to 7 percent alcohol). Officials with Compass Mark, formerly known as the Council on Drugs and Alcohol Abuse, said one Four Loko is the equivalent of a six pack of beer and five cups of coffee. The caffeine in the drink may mask the effects of the alcohol, causing a person to drink more.  After the caffeine wears off, the consumer can rapidly be overcome by the sudden impact of the alcohol. Experts said drinking too many of the so-called energy drinks, which comes in a variety of fruity flavors, will increase the chances of alcohol poisoning and results can be fatal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to continue investigating the public-health issue in an effort to evaluate the adverse health effects associated with consuming alcohol energy drinks. They have the power to ban the drinks nationwide, but like Michigan (the first state to outright ban the product), other states, along with some colleges and universities, are also refusing to wait on the FDA decision.

In the meantime, Opa-locka Vice Mayor Johnson is deeply troubled by the trend of these “tantalizing” alcoholic energy drinks, as well as the effects that they could have on the youth in “our” City. She adamantly demanded that the staff, “Do your job” by checking around to see where the cans of Four Loko are being sold and to whom.  Johnson is not only concerned that the packaging is misleading to these young kids, but that the parents may not be aware of what their children are drinking because the containers may appear child-friendly or non-threatening, due to the brightly colored wrapping that one might associate with kid products. She asked that parents check-out what the youth are drinking by smelling, tasting or examining anything resembling these cans or other cans that may be used in the transferring of the product content.  The Vice Mayor also requested that legislation be brought back to the Commission from the City Attorney, regarding the sale of Four Loko in Opa-locka. More than anything, the Vice Mayor asks that an all out effort be made in the community to help warn parents about the new ‘juice’ cans floating around town, with a content that is “packing a punch” among the youth!

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