After teen’s death from caffeine, local doc encourages caution

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WPRI) — Parents of teenagers may worry if their children are drinking alcohol or taking drugs. But the recent death of a South Carolina teen shows that caffeine can be deadly as well.

Davis Cripe, 16, of Richland County, South Carolina, was determined by a coroner to have died of a caffeine-induced cardiac event. About half-past noon on April 26, he left his school and bought a latte at a nearby McDonald’s. After that, he drank a Diet Mountain Dew and an energy drink.

Two hours later, Cripe collapsed at school. He was pronounced dead an hour later at a local hospital.

“Like all parents, we worry about our kids as they grow up,” said Davis’s father, Sean. “We worry about their safety, their health — especially once they start driving — But it wasn’t a car crash that took his life. Instead, it was an energy drink.”

Cripe’s autopsy showed nothing out of the ordinary. No undiagnosed heart conditions. No drugs or alcohol in his system. Just three caffeinated drinks.

Too much caffeine can indeed have a dangerous impact, Dr. Jason Hack of Rhode Island Hospital told Eyewitness News Tuesday.

Dr. Hack said the potential is indeed there for caffeine to kill. “In overdose, [caffeine]’s stimulant effects become pronounced and can have wide-ranging effects on the body, particularly the nervous system and the heart, including seizures and cardiac arrhythmia.

“The death of this young man in South Carolina seems to be a tragic accident and I hope that parents of teens will talk with their children about the potentially dangerous effects of a seemingly harmless substance that’s available at every turn.  Like many things, safety or injury depends upon the amount of exposure,” said Dr. Hack.

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The Food and Drug Administration says 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is generally safe for most adults. That’s about four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola, or two “energy shot” drinks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Only 100 milligrams of caffeine per day is recommended for adolescents 12 to 18 years old.

“I stand before you as a broken-hearted father and hope that something good can come from this,” said Sean Cripe this week. “Parents, please talk to your kids about the dangers of these energy drinks.”