Air Force Pharmacy Uses Survey to Track Energy Drink Consumption

“People think that if something is available over the counter, [then] it’s safe. That’s not necessarily true. Any product with caffeine will increase respiration and heart rate, and its diuretic effects can cause dehydration.” — Lt. Col. Nicholas Milazzo, chief of pharmacy research for the 60th Medical Group’s clinical investigation facility at Travis Air Force Base, CA

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, CA — The Air Force had good timing for its survey of energy drink consumption within the service: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released a new report showing a doubling of energy drink-related emergency department (ED) visits between 2007 and 2011.1

The Air Force is not planning to limit or ban the drinks, said lead investigator Lt. Col. Nicholas Milazzo, chief of pharmacy research for the 60th Medical Group’s clinical investigation facility at Travis Air Force Base, CA. “We are just trying to gather information at this stage,” he said.

Understanding who consumes the beverages and how much they drink could have important health consequences.

According to the SAMHSA report, nearly 21,000 ED visits were related to energy drinks in 2011, more than twice the 10,068 in 2007. That’s on top of a more than tenfold increase in energy drink-related ED visits from 2005 to 2008, from 1,494 to 16,059.

 “The main group in the general population that’s going to the ED with caffeine intoxication [is] age 18 to 39, which is the primary population age of our military members,” Milazzo pointed out.

While 18 to 39 year olds continue to have the highest rate of ED visits related to energy drinks, the latest SAMHSA report notes that ED visits by those over the age of 40, related to energy drink usage increased 279% from 2007 to 2011.

The Air Force survey went to 10 bases in the United States, as well as to Aviano Air Base in Italy and RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. Responses were received from 9,661 servicemembers.

“We were very pleased with the response to the survey. Our goal was to get at least a 10% participation rate from each base, and we achieved that at almost every base and exceeded it overall,” noted Milazzo. Both active duty and civilian personnel participated in the survey.

First released in September, the survey closed at all bases on or before Dec. 31, 2012. “Now we’re in the analysis phase,” said Milazzo, who said he hopes to have the final results available for publication in late March.

Vast Majority Use Energy Drinks

About 75% of the respondents indicated they had consumed energy drinks in the past. The survey also asked participants about their work schedules, age, sex and rank as well as how often, for how long and why they drank the beverages. In addition, participants were asked whether they consumed more energy drinks during or following deployment, if any, and whether their use of the drinks had increased over time.

Participants also were asked whether they had experienced any negative side effects such as dizziness, irritability, rapid or abnormal heartbeat, chest pain or insomnia and whether they had seen a physician or gone to the ED as a result of side effects from the drinks.

“We believe that consumption has become prevalent enough to warrant investigation,” said Milazzo. “The Air Force physical health assessment asks whether patients use alcohol and tobacco and how frequently. Asking about energy drink consumption would be a decent question to add as a screening tool.”

At this time, however, the “Air Force does not and is not considering the screening of energy drinks in our airmen,” stated Jonathan Stock, chief of public affairs, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General.

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