The sudden death of Lanna Hamann, 16, an Arizona teen who went into cardiac arrest after reportedly drinking many energy drinks while on vacation in Mexico, has caused a stir—and an aggressive campaign—on Twitter. Its target? Red Bull.
Hamann was drinking Red Bull—her drink of choice—on the day she died, and her friends and family believe energy drinks and dehydration are responsible for her death. “Lanna loved Red Bull. She always had it in her hand,” says her friend Brandi Vidal, 15. Medical research has yet to confirm that energy drinks pose a risk beyond that of other caffeine-containing beverages.
After Hamman’s sudden death, her friends launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #GetLannaHome that served two purposes. Its initial goal was to support a GoFundMe campaign to help Hamman’s parents pay the $13,000 it will cost them to get their daughter’s body back from Mexico. Now, Hamman’s friends, family and supporters are using the same hashtag in a campaign asking Red Bull to support Hamman’s parents.
“Hundreds of us tried contacting Red Bull through email, Twitter, phone and not one response was given back,” says Noa Thomas, 15, another friend of Hamman’s. Red Bull told TIME that their sympathies are with the Hamann family and are unable to comment on this particular situation. Red Bull did not confirm receipt of emails and phone calls about Hamann’s death, but the Twitter campaign, which is public, has picked up speed. Neither Red Bull nor the Hamann family would comment on whether there is litigation pending in the matter.
The FDA is currently investigating caffeine-related deaths, and just last year, the agency announced it was looking into the safety of added caffeine in products for youth and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption among minors. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Richard Durbin have been pushing the FDA to address concerns over the amount of caffeine in products, and last August they introduced the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act,which would require greater regulation of dietary supplements and ingredients by the FDA.
Large amounts of caffeine can be dangerous to the heart, but the sole confirmed caffeine-related death in the United States was caused by an overdose on caffeine pills, which can have as much caffeine as three 8.4 fl oz cans of Red Bull in one pill, according to the FDA. Whether someone can overdose on caffeine from energy drinks has not yet been established. “When it comes to energy drinks and supplements, there are so many things in the product it’s hard to isolate the caffeine,” an FDA spokesperson told TIME. The agency confirmed that mixing alcohol and caffeine is dangerous because caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues people normally use to gauge how intoxicated they are. There has been no indication that Hamann was also drinking alcohol on the day she died.
The FDA requires reports of adverse health events linked to food, drinks, and drugs—and the agency says it has reviewed hospitalization reports from several energy drink companies, including 5-hour Energy and Monster.
How much caffeine is in energy drinks varies widely depending on the brand. Red Bull says its 8.4 fl oz cans contain about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee—about 80 mg—and a 2012 Consumer Reports review of the 27 best-selling energy drinks found that Red Bull’s reported caffeine content was accurate. The FDA says 400 mg a day, about four or five cups of coffee, is generally not considered dangerous for adults.
But concern about these drinks’ safety seems to be on the rise. In January research from Mintel found that nearly 59% of Americans who are current energy drink or energy shot users say they worry about the safety of those beverages. The energy drink industry is booming, going from a $3.8 billion business globally in 1999 to $27.5 billion in 2013, according to market research firm Euromonitor. And a February study in the journal Pediatrics showed that young people are drinking less soda, but consuming more energy drinks and coffee.
“I won’t be purchasing any energy drinks in the future, and I’m considering no longer consuming soda products as well,” says Joey Kobold, 20, another friend of Hamann’s. “I never really thought there was an issue—just a good-tasting drink.” Many of Hamann’s friends told me they will no longer drink energy drinks.
Hamann’s friends say they plan to continue to push the social media campaign to get attention—and financial support for Hamann’s parents—from Red Bull.
“I still haven’t actually came to the conclusion that I won’t ever see her again,” says Thomas. “She always wanted to … change the world. Maybe this way she can.”