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Four Loko, “Blackout in a Can”

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Parents of teens and college age young adults should be aware of a sugary high-energy alcoholic beverage called Four Loko.

The drink has become popular on college campuses and came under renewed scrutiny, Monday, as investigators announced that nine freshmen had been hospitalized after drinking Four Loko at an off-campus party.

Police were initially called to a supermarket parking lot, where they found a girl passed out in the back seat of a car next to a boy with a bloody nose. At the private house the two had just left, three girls were sprawled on a bed, a barely conscious young man was being dragged out of the backyard, a girl was prostrate on the bathroom floor and three young people were splayed senseless in a car outside.

The scene was so bizarre that that many partygoers, most of them students at Central Washington University in nearby Ellensburg, believed they had fallen victim to a date rape drug. Instead, police and medical investigators have in large part blamed the heavy consumption of Four Loko, also known as “blackout in a can,” for the chaotic scene of sickened young people.

The 23 ½-ounce can of fruity malt liquor sold in Washington, and many other states, packs 12% alcohol, the equivalent of drinking four or more beers and a cup of strong coffee. The nine students who drank the caffeinated malt liquor were hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent, and a female student nearly died, Central Washington University President James L. Gaudino said. A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent is considered potentially lethal. All the hospitalized students were inexperienced drinkers — freshmen ranging in age from 17 to 19.

Some students admitted drinking vodka, rum and beer with Four Loko, which is made by Phusion Projects Inc., of Chicago. College officials and law enforcement agencies throughout the country are increasingly sounding alarms against Four Loko and others like it, which they say are little more than a binge drinker’s dream.

Phusion Projects LLC of Chicago, which manufactures Four Loko, said in a statement it is “upset … when our products are abused or consumed illegally by underaged drinkers,” but emphasized it is wrong to place all the blame for the Washington incident on Four Loko because police found evidence that beer and hard liquor also had been heavily consumed.

“The real problem is the drinker thinks they’re more alert and less impaired than they actually are,” said David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the consumer advocacy group. “They keep drinking to the point of being in danger of alcohol poisoning. And that can lead to death.”

College is often a time when teens and young adults learn how to find their way in the world. Before your child heads off to college, help prepare them with information about the dangers of binge drinking and exactly what drinks like Four Loko can do to them.

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