Two recent deaths allegedly resulting from the use of powdered caffeine has led to litigation and a public alert from the FDA, warning consumers of the dangers of the substance. One teaspoon of powdered caffeine is roughly equivalent to 25 cups of coffee. The product is not available in stores, but can be purchased in bulk over the internet.  According to Laura MacCleery, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer rights advocacy group, powdered caffeine is the most dangerous dietary supplement on the market.  The FDA reports that symptoms of caffeine overdose can include “rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity.”

Recent Deaths & Lawsuit

Wade Sweatt died in June of 2014 at 24 years old, allegedly after trying powdered caffeine for the first time. According to Wade’s father, he was looking for a healthier way to get a boost from caffeine without all the added sugar and artificial sweeteners in soda. Logan Stiner was 18 years old when he allegedly died of a caffeine overdose in May of 2014. Logan was using powdered caffeine to try and improve his workouts. Following Stiner’s death, his family has filed a wrongful death suit against Inc., a high school classmate who allegedly supplied the caffeine powder to Stiner, and six Arizona-based companies who were involved in making, marketing and shipping the caffeine powder. The Stiner suit alleges Amazon and the other companies violated Ohio food and drug safety laws and asserts claims for strict product liability, negligence, breach of implied warranty, defective product design, and fraud.  The Stiner complaint can be viewed here.

Congressional & Regulatory Activity

Powdered caffeine highlights a tension that is created when a product is labeled as a “dietary supplement” because the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. So, while the FDA does regulate all other forms of caffeine, powdered caffeine falls outside the FDA’s scope. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), and Bob Casey (D-Penn) have urged the FDA to ban caffeine powder. Daniel Fabricant, executive director of the Natural Products Association, argues that caffeine, even in powder form, can be used safely. Fabricant believes the problem is just a matter of dosage.  Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, has said that it is irresponsible to sell a drug which, with as little as a teaspoon, can cause a lethal overdose. The FDA has asked companies selling this product to voluntarily take it off the market.