WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Sherrod Brown will meet today with families of two young men who died after overdosing on powdered caffeine, then will present a petition from the families and others to the federal government asking for the bulk powdered stimulant to be banned for retail sale.
The family of Logan Stiner, an 18-year-old from LaGrange, Ohio, who died in May, will also meet with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to that agency.
Stiner was a senior about to graduate from Keystone High School. He was believed to have used powdered caffeine as a workout stimulant. Police found a bag of powdered caffeine next to his body, and a medical examiner determined that Stiner had taken more than a teaspoon, many times more than the recommended dose.
Also scheduled to meet with Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, is the family of Wade Sweatt, 24, of Georgia, another caffeine overdose victim. Sweatt’s family will also meet with the FDA, the agency said.
The families, the senators and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are trying to ramp up support and pressure for a ban that would prevent other people from obtaining the powdered substance. Powdered caffeine has been available at vitamin stores and online.
Although the number of recorded deaths directly attributed to powdered caffeine is relatively small – Lorain County Medical Examiner Stephen Evans could only find 18 when he researched the matter after Stiner’s death – health authorities believe the actual rate is higher.
Brown says that more than 200 people have been admitted to the hospital for caffeine overdoses in Ohio alone, including five life-threatening cases.
But the FDA tends to move cautiously when it comes to regulation, which can carry financial and legal consequences.
Regulations can take years to develop and implement. In this case, powdered caffeine involves a substance used by some people regularly for energy boosts and alertness or to enhance physical workouts. But it can be hard to measure, and a teaspoon is equivalent to about 25 cups of coffee, the FDA says.
The FDA wrote to Brown and Blumenthal on Friday saying it is considering next steps but not laying them out. The FDA noted that it issued a consumer advisory in July warning of the lethal danger of ingesting pure powdered caffeine.
“In addition, the agency has surveyed the marketplace and identified powdered pure caffeine products sold under various conditions, with varying legal and regulatory implications for the agency’s enforcement authorities,” wrote Thomas A. Kraus, associate FDA commissioner for legislation.
The agency said it was writing in response to a request by Brown and Blumenthal on Oct. 23, asking the FDA to ban retail sales of powdered pure caffeine. But the timing of the FDA’s correspondence coincided with the publicity that Brown is seeking today as he tries to step up pressure on the regulatory agency.
Brown has noted that despite the FDA’s consumer warnings, powdered caffeine remains on the shelves and available online, with no regulation, warnings or protections.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren provided this statement today to the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
“We remain concerned about powdered pure caffeine products and are continuing to evaluate our best course forward. We look forward to meeting with the families of Logan Stiner and Wade Sweatt to extend our sympathies and learn more about how these products are being used.
“In July, after receiving news of Stiner’s death, the FDA warned consumers about severe health risks, including rapid or irregular heartbeat, seizures and death, associated with consuming pure caffeine. These products are in powdered form and are marketed directly to consumers. The FDA is particularly concerned about products in bulk bags, which appear to be sold primarily by internet retailers. After the FDA issued the warning in July, some online retailers stopped selling these products.
“The FDA will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, to protect consumers. In the interim, the FDA recommends that consumers avoid these products. Parents should be aware that powdered caffeine products may be attractive to young people.