Bad PR: FDA Cites 5-Hour Energy in 13 Deaths

It’s tough to peddle caffeine these days unless you brew coffee, isn’t it? This week brought controversy over “Jack’d Cracker Jacks” while last month saw the FDA issue a report tying Monster Energy Drink to at least five deaths around the country. N0w we hear of yet another report linking the popular 5-Hour Energy drink to even more fatalities.

The 13 deaths cited in this story easily top the five blamed on Monster, and the details are even more troubling: the popular wake-up shot with the awful commercials was mentioned in approximately 90 filings since 2009 and linked to everything from heart attacks and tremors to “a spontaneous abortion”. We’ll bet everyone at distributor Living Essentials and its parent company Innovation Ventures just loves that phrase.

As expected, the FDA tempered its reports with conditional statements–and a Living Essentials rep defended the company by claiming to be “unaware of any deaths proven to be caused by the consumption of 5-Hour Energy.” The fact that regulatory authorities classify the product as a “dietary supplement” further complicates the issue.

The company’s CEO went on the offensive today, stating that “caffeine is a good thing” while claiming that the individuals behind the dozens of reports were “just after some money” and re-emphasizing the point that one serving of his brand’s product contains approximately twice the stimulants of a plain old 8-ounce cup of coffee. That doesn’t sound too bad, but the fact that hospitals recorded 13,000 emergency room visits related to energy drinks in 2009 alone tells us that something’s not quite right.

But that’s just fine print–this report obviously amounts to a PR disaster for 5-Hour Energy, Living Essentials, and any other related multinational conglomerates with comically vague names. The CEO can protest all he wants, but Monster’s stock dropped by nearly 50% this year. We see a lot of nausea, headaches and sleepless nights in his future–maybe he’ll finally know what it feels like to consume his own product!

The energy drink industry reports continuous growth, but the negative press just keeps coming. What can these companies do to dial the heat down a bit?

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