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Powdered caffeine cause for concern among poison experts

Ellen Abbott

While the federal government and some state governments are looking to punish companies that sell pure powdered caffeine, local emergency personnel are getting a primer on how to deal with an overdose.

Upstate New York Poison Center toxicologist William Eggleston says it’s only a matter of time before someone dies using powdered caffeine in New York state.

"I think if the product continues to be readily available, it’s inevitable that someone is going to unintentionally misuse the product,” Eggleston said.

It’s easy to get pure powdered caffeine, he says. The powder is sold as a dietary supplement. Eggleston bought a 50 gram bag online for $9 -- that’s equivalent to about 280 cups of coffee. A recommended dose is one-sixteenths of a teaspoon.

“In order to really measure that out -- it’s about 190 milligrams -- you need a lab-grade scale. So someone at home might try to measure it out themselves, or get their teaspoons or tablespoons mixed up, or maybe just not read the directions at all, and maybe put a little scoop in,” Eggleston said.

During a series of forums in Syracuse for central New York EMT providers, Eggleston noted only a small amount of the powdered caffeine can cause heart problems or seizures. A tablespoon is lethal for an adult. Eggleston says what makes consumption of pure caffeine inherently dangerous is the fact that people feel the stimulant isn’t dangerous.

"We don’t associate it with things like nicotine or other drugs we know aren’t safe,” Eggleson said. “So you don’t have that same concern when your dosing or adding it to your products you’re going to drink.”

In the past year, two youths have died in the United States year from caffeine poisoning. New Jersey is the latest state considering banning the sale of powdered caffeine.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.