December 18, 2014

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U.S. senator seeks national caffeine powder ban after Keystone student’s death

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

The story of 18-year-old Logan Stiner, who died from a caffeine powder overdose just days before his high school graduation, first rocked the small town of LaGrange — and then the country.

After Stiner’s death in May, Brian Balser, an attorney for the Stiner family, started working to have caffeine powder banned nationwide. He’s received support from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and has pushed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to launch an investigation into caffeine powder’s harmful effects.

“We’re trying to get this off the market,” Balser said.

Caffeine powder is pure caffeine that’s labeled as a dietary supplement by the FDA and isn’t regulated by the government. It can be purchased online from multiple companies, one of which suggests using only 1/16 of a teaspoon of the powder per day.

It isn’t clear how much Stiner, a wrestler for Keystone High School, took when he was found dead in his home in LaGrange in May. An autopsy completed in June showed that Stiner had more than 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his system, well above the 5 to 15 micrograms an average coffee drinker would have, according to Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans.

The lethal amount prompted national attention.

This week, Blumenthal held a news conference calling for the ban of caffeine powder on a national level.

“I plan to talk to my colleagues and mobilize more support from my position that (caffeine powder) should be removed from the market,” Blumenthal said, adding that Stiner’s death introduced him to the harmful effects of caffeine powder.

The FDA released a warning regarding the negative effects of pure caffeine powder in July, following Stiner’s death, and launched an investigation into caffeine powder.

Officials will “consider taking regulatory action” after the investigation, according to a statement from the FDA.

Balser, who was hired by the family this summer to investigate the facts surrounding caffeine powder, is behind the effort to get the powder off the market.

“We want to keep the FDA investigating (caffeine powder) so this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Balser said.

Balser also plans to hold the companies selling caffeine powder responsible for its effects.

“Anybody can buy it. If you look at the labeling, there are no instructions or proper warning,” he said.

The support from Blumenthal is fitting. The U.S. senator was part of a national effort to get alcoholic caffeinated drinks banned from the market in 2010.

“I became convinced that this product (caffeine powder) is a public threat,” Blumenthal said. “There is no way to avoid unsafe use with most forms of measurement available to most people.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, is working to ban caffeine powder sales in Ohio. Manning plans to meet with officials from the state agriculture department and pharmaceutical board in early September to draft a bill that would make it illegal for people buy caffeine powder in Ohio.

“It’s not going to stop, it but what we’re hoping is to educate people on this,” Manning said. “You have to get the word out there that this is a dangerous drug.”

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.