Drink, not drugs, sickened Wash. college students

ELLENSBURG – An investigation has determined that a high-alcohol caffeinated drink, not date-rape drugs, sickened Central Washington University students at an off-campus party earlier this month.

Students at the party had blood-alcohol levels that ranged 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.

Nine students were hospitalized after the Oct. 8 party at a house in Roslyn, where about 50 people had been drinking.

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.

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

McKenna also said he wants to lead a national push to restrict the sale of the beverages.

The drink has been in the news recently. 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.

A 23.5-ounce can has an alcohol content of 12 percent and is comparable to drinking five to six beers. The caffeine in the drink can also suspend the effects of alcohol consumption, allowing a person to consume more than usual, officials said.

A can of Four Loko sells for about $2.50.

Last year, a bill that would have banned caffeinated malt liquors died in Olympia. The measure, requested by the state’s liquor board, didn’t make it out of the Senate rules committee.