Late last year, the FDA asked the U.S. Health and Human Services to update the figures its substance abuse research arm compiles about emergency room visits tied to energy drinks.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‘s survey was based on responses it receives from about 230 hospitals each year which includes a representative sample of about 5 percent of emergency departments nationwide. The agency then uses those responses to estimate the number of energy drink-related emergency department visits nationwide.
The more than 20,000 cases estimated for 2011 represent a small portion of the annual 136 million emergency room visits tracked by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA said it was considering the findings and pressing for more details as it undertakes a broad review of the safety of energy drinks and related ingredients this spring.
“We will examine this additional information … as a part of our ongoing investigation into potential safety issues surrounding the use of energy-drink products,” FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in a statement.
Beverage manufacturers fired back at the survey, saying the statistics were misleading and taken out of context.
“This report does not share information about the overall health of those who may have consumed energy drinks, or what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place,” the American Beverage Association said in a statement. “There is no basis by which to understand the overall caffeine intake of any of these individuals — from all sources.”
Energy drinks remain a small part of the carbonated soft drinks market, representing only 3.3 percent of sales volume, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. Even as soda consumption has flagged in recent years, energy drinks sales are growing rapidly.
In 2011, sales volume for energy drinks rose by almost 17 percent, with the top three companies — Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar — each logging double-digit gains, Beverage Digest found. The drinks are often marketed at sporting events that are popular among younger people such as surfing and skateboarding.
From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, people from 18 to 25 were the most common age group seeking emergency treatment for energy drink-related reactions, the report found.
“We were really concerned to find that in four years the number of emergency department visits almost doubled, and these drinks are largely marketed to younger people,” said Al Woodward, a senior statistical analyst with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration who worked on the report.