A few weeks before their prom king's death, students at an Ohio high school had attended an assembly on narcotics that warned about the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers. But it was one of the world's most widely accepted drugs that killed Logan Stiner—a powdered form of caffeine so potent that as little as a single teaspoon can be fatal. The teen's sudden death in May has focused attention on the unregulated powder, and the FDA said yesterday that it will consider regulatory action. The agency also cautioned parents that young people could be drawn to it.
An autopsy found that Stiner had a lethal amount of caffeine in his system when he died May 27 at his home in LaGrange, southwest of Cleveland. Stiner, a wrestler, had more than 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his system, as much as 23 times the amount found in a typical coffee or soda drinker. Because it's sold as a dietary supplement, the powder is not subject to the same federal regulations as certain caffeinated foods. Users add it to drinks for a pick-me-up before workouts or to control weight gain. A mere 1/16th of a teaspoon can contain about 200 milligrams of caffeine, roughly the equivalent of two large cups of coffee. That means a heaping teaspoon could kill, says one emergency physician. In fact, "the difference between a safe amount and a lethal dose of caffeine in these powdered products is very small," says an FDA spokesperson. (Read more drug use stories.)