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FDA expected to take a stand on alcoholic energy drinks

A year after it began reviewing whether energy drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine are safe or legal, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a stand on the drinks as soon as Wednesday, according to law enforcement officials in several states.

The agency declined to say what it would do, but several food safety lawyers who once worked for it said a likely option was to use warning letters to inform manufacturers that the drinks were adulterated and, therefore, not safe.

With new reports of young people falling ill or dying after drinking the potent blends of alcohol and caffeine, state and federal regulators have been pressured to address the matter. Several states have moved to ban the drinks on their own, and this weekend New York’s largest beer distributors agreed to stop delivering caffeinated alcoholic beverages to retailers by Dec. 10. Some state officials, meanwhile, have criticized the FDA for not completing its review sooner.

“To be very blunt, there’s just no excuse for the delay in applying standards that clearly should bar this kind of witch’s brew,” said Sen.-elect Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who as the state’s attorney general has led a campaign against the drinks.

At issue for the FDA is whether adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is “generally regarded as safe,” an agency designation that requires accepted scientific evidence.

Asked about the status of the FDA’s review, Beth Martino, a spokeswoman for the agency, said only that it was continuing.

The state law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the FDA’s investigation publicly, said they did not know what conclusions had been reached.

Four Loko, the top-selling caffeinated alcoholic drink, has been blamed for several deaths over the Past several months, a period during which the brand’s availability spread to all but three states. In August, an 18-year-old in Palm Coast, Fla., died after drinking Four Loko in combination with diet pills. The next month, a 20-year-old in Tallahassee, Fla., started playing with a gun and fatally shot himself after drinking several cans of Four Loko over a number of hours.