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alcohol energy drinks

Canned drinks that combine alcohol--usually a malt beverage --with caffiene have been in the news of late. You may have seen this article in the Roanoke Times: As adolescents and young adults ingest these drinks, they are turning up in Emergency Departments around the country. Some states have already banned the sale of one or more of the energy drinks, and others are considering doing so. Colleges are banning the drinks and/or warning their students about the dangers.

So, the question is, is this just hype?

Are the brands, like Four Loko and Joose really all that bad? Will the bans work, or just serve to induce more young people to try them as the publicity about these drinks grows? How can they be any worse than drinking an alcoholic beverage in combination with a caffienated drink? For instance, the makers of Four Loko have countered criticism of their drink on the basis of the long-term popularity of drinks such as rum and coke.

The problem is simple.

First, most kids are unlikely to drink "just one" Second, the taste of alcohol is masked by the very sweet flavor of the drink. Thirdly, the effect of the alcohol is masked by the presence of a considerable amount of caffiene. So, they are easy to drink, are usually consumed in fairly large quantities, and by the time you or your teen has consumed three or four of these, the blood alcohol level can be at or above the lethal level. There is a reason these drinks have been dubbed "blackout in a can."

The  Roanoke County Prevention Council, a local group who has worked very hard to reduce alcohol consumption in young teens has prepared a FACT SHEET to help educate our community to the dangers of these drinks. The Council recently won one of three Got Outcomes! Coalition of Excellence Awards from the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America and will receive the award in February in Washington DC. The council works on prevention of risky behaviors in teens.

It is our privilege, as a Children's Hospital to work with this group, and others in our community to improve the health and wellness of our adolescents and young adults. Many of our physicians lend their expertise and time to organizations like the Council in order to encourage healthy behaviors and discourage high-risk, dangerous and illegal activities.  Attached is a FLYER from RAYSAC, another adolescent-health focused group on the dangers of these drinks.

In late January, Carilion Clinic Children's Hospital will be opening our adolescent and young adult health center (we have collaborated with Roanoke Adolescent Health Partnership, known as RAHP). It will be located on Jefferson Avenue, adjacent to the Jefferson College, and on the campus of Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital.

I would be interested to hear comments from readers on what we should do here in Virginia about the alcohol energy drinks, if anything, AND to hear thoughts on adolescent health and wellness issues as we embarq on the creation of our adolescent health center.

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