Doctors renew warnings about teen use of over-the-counter energy supplements

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Local doctors sent a warning to parents Tuesday after a high school in Illinois suspended four students for consuming caffeinated energy mints. The school noted in a statement that "They approach the consumption of mood-altering substances very seriously," though the mother of one of the students compared the mints to drinking a soda on the "Today Show" Tuesday morning.

Local doctors say any substance, even if it is legal, can be harmful if not used in moderation. Officials at the University of Kansas Hospital said the hospital receives two to three phone calls a week from other hospitals concerned about how to handle a patient who has consumed the latest upper.

A little pill or a bright bottle bought in a convenience store looks safe to a teen. However, Dr. Stephen Thornton, a toxicologist at the hospital, noted that these products don't follow the same guidelines as controlled substances.

"The government really doesn't have a lot of control over supplements and dietary supplements and things like that until bad things start to happen, and then the government kind of steps in," explained Thornton.

A 16-ounce cup of coffee averages about 100 milligrams of caffeine, but many of little energy pills found at local convenience stores contain 300 milligrams of caffeine, or the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee.

Doctors said if a person were to consume a package of a supplement like Blast Caffeine, which can be found on the Internet, in its entirety, it would the equivalent of about 125 Red Bulls and could potentially be fatal.
"They're (the supplements) packaged in bright colors for children, and I think what they're taking advantage of is this concept that if its sold over the counter, it must be safe," said Thornton.

Physicians noted the state of Kansas recently made it easier to ban substances like these so it will not take so long to pull them from the shelves. The FDA is now trying to implement the same policies.

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