Video: Four Loko sickened students, not rape drugs

  1. Closed captioning of: Four Loko sickened students, not rape drugs

    >>> but we begin this hour with a legal alcoholic drink that's believed to be responsible for sickening nine college students in washington state .

    >> reporter: good morning to you and, yes, police are saying this is all the result of underaged binge drinking made worse by this product, four loko, wiz some students call black out in a can. now the university wants this banned.

    >> i guess i wanted to kind of say, like, sorry for the negative attention this has brought on campus.

    >> reporter: what sent her to the hospital was not a spiked drink as first suspected. she was one of nine students rushed to the hospital after attending an offcampus party on october 8 , the students, mostly freshmen women started vomiting and passing out.

    >> we saw blood alcohol levels ranging from .123 to .335. i want to remind people that .3 can be considered lethal.

    >> no drugs were found in the sickened students but the police report says that there was underaged drinking at the party including beer, vodka and run. police put special emphasize on four loko.

    >> our research shows that every one of the students that was hospitalized had drank four loko. it's equivalent to about five to six beers in a can.

    >> the college banned four loko from their campus after officials say it sent a handful of students there to the hospital. several washington campuses have also banned the drink and say alcohol education is crucial.

    >> we have been holding meetings with students and educating students about the dangers of this particular class of beverage.

    >> reporter: washington state attorney general thinks these drinks should be banned nationally.

    >> the danger of drinking a drink like this, one of the four to five beer products with caffeine is you might not be aware of how much alcohol you're ingesting.

    >> reporter: the company behind four loko says it goes to great lengths to make sure the product is not sold to underaged drinkers. they also say four loko is being unfairly blamed because the washington students were drinking all kinds of alcohol and in a written statement added our products are not energy drinks as they have been called and when consumed responsibly, they're just as safe as any other alcoholic beverage . and while some universities are working to rid their campuses of these products, representatives of four loko say they don't disagree, they say restricting their product as well as other alcoholic beverages on college campuses makes sense.

    >> on that note, kristen welker, thanks so much.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/25/2010 4:58:37 PM ET 2010-10-25T20:58:37

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect comparison of the alcohol content in the drink called Four Loko. One 23.5-ounce can contains 6 percent or 12 percent alcohol, depending on state regulations, the company said in a statement.

Central Washington University has determined that a high-alcohol energy drink under scrutiny nationwide is what sickened students at an off-campus party this month, prompting state Attorney General Rob McKenna to call for a ban on the beverage.

Nine students were hospitalized after the Oct. 8 party in Roslyn, where about 50 people had been drinking. Some students had blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent after consuming cans of the drink called Four Loko, CWU President James L. Gaudino said at a news conference Monday. Other students mixed the drink with additional alcohol, he said.

McKenna said his office would lead an effort to ban such caffeinated malt liquors this year after a previous proposal died in the state Legislature.

"It's time to bring an end to the sale of alcoholic energy drinks," McKenna said. "They're marketed to kids by using fruit flavors that mask the taste of alcohol, and they have such high levels of stimulants that people have no idea how inebriated they really are."

McKenna said he wants to lead a national push to restrict the sales of the drinks.

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Four Loko is made by Phusion Projects Inc., of Chicago. It comes in several varieties, including fruit punch and blue raspberry. A message left with the company was not immediately returned.

A 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko sells for about $2.50 and has an alcohol content of up to 12 percent, depending on state regulations. The caffeine in the drink can also suspend the effects of alcohol consumption, allowing a person to consume more than usual, officials said.

All the students who were hospitalized were freshmen ranging in age from 17 to 19, and they were inexperienced drinkers, Gaudino said. A female student nearly died, he said.

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The students have recovered and are back in classes. CWU Police Chief Steve Rittereiser said the investigation into the source of the alcohol continues.

Rittereiser said interviews with the party-goers determined that no students were given alcohol or drugs without their knowledge. A police officer responding to the scene also initially thought he had stopped a sexual assault in progress, but Rittereiser said the two involved later told investigators the act was consensual, Rittereiser said.

There was also no truth to rumors that women at the party were targeted with spiked drinks in plastic cups of a certain color, the police chief said.

The house where the part took place was littered with cans of Four Loko. All nine students who were sent to hospitals drank the beverage, investigators determined.

Gaudino said Central Washington University is banning Four Loko on campus and reviewing its educational programs about such drinks.

Four Loko has recently come under scrutiny elsewhere. Last month, 23 intoxicated students were hospitalized over the span of a few weeks at northern New Jersey's Ramapo College after drinking Four Loko, prompting the college's president to institute a ban. Another four students got sick in New York, university officials said.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a statement Monday saying she supported a measure to ban caffeinated malt liquors that died in the Legislature last year. The bill, requested by the state's liquor board, didn't make it out of the Senate rules committee.

Gregoire called on the liquor board to continue working on a "solution."

Mckenna said his office would review the marketing of such drinks, particularly to minors, to determine if it violates consumer protection laws.

The state previously raised concerns with the nation's two largest brewers, MillerCoors LLC and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, about similar drinks, he said.

"We never brought a lawsuit against them because they acted like good corporate citizens and removed the products," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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