If a product is available for sale, it’s probably safe. Right?

Wrong. The late 2000s bore witness to the questionable trend of mass-produced flavored malt beverages boosted with a few extra hits of caffeine. There was Tilt from Anheuser-Busch, Sparks from MillerCoors, and the one concoction to rule them all: Phusion Projects’ infamous Four Loko.

What began as a humble entrepreneurial venture between three college buddies quickly gained traction and grew legs of its own. Four Loko — a.k.a a blackout in a can — was everywhere, particularly on college campuses across the United States. While binge drinking was certainly nothing new at the time of Four Loko’s release, the energy drink upped the ante and heavy duty consequences came with it. Young, inexperienced drinkers were drinking more than ever before, unable to accurately gauge how drunk they were getting. Worst of all, following in the product’s wake was an uptick in car accidents, alcohol poisoning, and sexual assaults. College campuses took notice, and so did the FDA, prompting a complete overhaul of the drink’s recipe.

When Four Loko-mania reached a fever pitch in 2010, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein was the principal deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Today, he joins “Taplines” to tell a side of the story that got lost as the chaotic, cash-rich, caffeinated first act of Four Loko came to a close. He explains to us how the agency gathered the facts, determined its jurisdiction, and weighed its response to the hugely popular, highly volatile new drink. Tune in for more.

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