Did drinking Red Bull kill an otherwise healthy 33-year-old man? His grandmother claims it did. This week, Patricia Terry announced she is suing the drink maker over Cory Terry’s death. The case rekindles the debate over whether high-caffeine energy drinks are more harmful than the industry and regulators have acknowledged.
Terry, a resident of Brooklyn, died in 2011 after guzzling Red Bull during a game of basketball. His official cause of death was idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, meaning his heart stopped for unknown reasons, the New York Daily News reported. Patricia Terry told the newspaper that her grandson, a construction worker, did not smoke and made healthy choices with the exception of drinking Red Bull “all the time.”
“He said it perked him up,” she told the paper.
The $85 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Terry’s family claims Red Bull didn’t adequately warn consumers about potential side effects such as heart problems. Earlier this year, Terry’s grandmother also sued the City of New York for not having a defibrillator in the school gym where Terry had his heart attack, according to the Daily News.
A survey of the nation’s hospitals found the number of emergency room visits related to energy-drink consumption doubled between 2007 and 2011. Emergency physicians reported an increase in the number of heart problems they saw in people who drank beverages such as Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar. In June, the American Medical Association called for a ban on energy-drink marketing that targets adolescents.
Energy drinks do not require prior approval from the Food and Drug Administration because regulators have already decided caffeine is a safe ingredient in foods and dietary supplements. Between 2004 and 2012, the agency received about 160 complaints from people who had health problems after drinking energy drinks. The majority of the complaints were related to the 5-Hour Energy drink. Red Bull received only 21 complaints.
The FDA attempts to investigate all of the reports, but acknowledged on its website that the cases are difficult to follow up on. It urged common sense for energy-drink users: “It is important for consumers to realize that, while stimulants such as caffeine may make one feel more alert and awake, judgment and reaction time can still be impaired by insufficient rest or sleep.”
Red Bull states one can of its drink has about the same amount of caffeine—80 milligrams—as a cup of coffee. The drink maker has even been sued for deceptive marketing because it offers a unique energy high with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings,” when it reality it has less caffeine than Starbucks coffee.