Controversial Energy Drink 'Cocaine' Back on Retail Shelves in Connecticut

The product that's back on retail shelves in Connecticut stores. Photo by Rick Thomason

TORRINGTON – A controversial energy drink that caused a nationwide flap in 2007 and was, for a while, pulled from retailers' shelves in Connecticut is quietly back on shelves in the state and has been since early summer of 2010. The re-emergence of the drink came without a whisper following the strife three years prior.

“Cocaine”, manufactured for Redux Beverages LLC in Las Vegas, hit shelves in November 2006 accompanied by marketing statements such as “The Legal Alternative,” “Speed in a Can,” “Liquid Cocaine,” and “Cocaine – Instant Rush.”

The Food and Drug Administration, along with then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and other AGs around the country, took exception to the marketing scheme. The FDA issued a warning statement to Redux about promoting the product “as an alternative to an illicit street drug.”

“Redux’s campaign to make ‘Cocaine’ cool makes me sick,” Blumenthal said early in the controversy in 2007. “The company shamelessly sought to exploit the young, especially in neighborhoods ravaged by drug abuse.”

Redux founder and President James Kirby said in a Tuesday telephone interview that controversy over the drink has largely settled down since the company satisfied the FDA’s objections.

“The FDA’s warning letter in May 2007 classified our original marketing scheme as inappropriate,” Kirby said. “We immediately changed the name temporarily to ‘No Name’ and made label corrections. In the following eight or nine months we had no issues at all.”

In February 2008 “Cocaine” again appeared on shelves across the United States. But in July 2008 the FDA reared its head again with another warning letter to Redux, this time raising objections to the type font the company used on its cans.

“The FDA said the lettering looked like a powder that had been ‘cut’ with a razor,” Kirby said, “so we went back to our font designer in Germany and had them fill in some of the holes to smooth out the font.”

A month later, in August 2008, Kirby said Redux added a “humorous slogan” to “Cocaine” cans explaining that the beverage did not contain the illegal drug cocaine. “As silly as it was to have to do, we put a long piece on the can explaining that the beverage inside contained no illegal drug of any sort,” Kirby said. “It was a little crazy to have to do that, but sometimes you just have to spell it out for people.”

On May 31 of this year the FDA sent Redux a letter effectively closing the case, Kirby said. At no time during the controversy did the FDA ban or issue a recall on the product.

Distribution of “Cocaine” in Connecticut originally began in November 2006 and on May 5, 2007, Redux agreed to pull its product out of Connecticut and reimburse retailers and distributors for any costs. “This will flush Cocaine out of our state,” Blumenthal said. “We will now push for a national ban.”

“Cocaine” may have been flushed out of Connecticut for a period of time, but it is again available on store shelves in Torrington. Register Citizen staff purchased a two-ounce shot bottle of “Cocaine” – now touted as a “high caffeine energy supplement” – at a local convenience store. A small box of the shot bottles sat beside a similar-size box of “5-Hour Energy,” touted on the company’s website as “a liquid energy shot.”

“Cocaine” contains 280 milligrams of caffeine, which is substantially higher than most other energy drinks sold in the United States.

“Our benchmark is Red Bull, which has 80 milligrams of caffeine,” Kirby said. When asked how “Cocaine” compares to 5-Hour Energy, one of the most popular and heavily marketed energy drinks, Kirby said it’s hard to equate the two.

“Since the FDA doesn’t require disclosure of the specific caffeine content, it’s hard for us to compare the two,” Kirby said. “5-Hour Energy doesn’t list the caffeine content on their bottles nor anywhere else publically.”

5-Hour Energy, on the Frequently Asked Questions portion of its website, states, “Original 5-hour Energy shots contain about as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee. An Extra Strength 5-hour Energy shot contains about as much caffeine as 12 ounces of coffee. If you are sensitive to caffeine try a Decaf 5-hour Energy shot. It contains only as much caffeine as a half cup of decaffeinated coffee.”

Other ingredients in “Cocaine” are carbonated Water, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Taurine, Caffeine, Natural Flavors, Sodium Citrate, D-Ribose, Salt, Sodium Benzoate, Inositol, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sucralose, L-Carnitine, Potassium Sorbate, Guarana Seed Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) and Red 40.

Besides the shot bottle, “Cocaine” also is sold as an energy drink in 8.4-ounce cans and in two flavors – Spicy Hot and Mild.

Kirby said that in about six weeks Redux will introduce “Cocaine Black Cola,” a drink with a cinnamon and cola flavor that will be sugar free and have about half the caffeine of a regular “Cocaine” drink or shot.

“This new drink will have ingredients in it that studies have shown assist the body in burning calories,” Kirby said. “But it will still be marketed as an energy supplement.”

Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection fired the first shot from the state against Redux in April 2007 when it placed an embargo on “Cocaine” citing a violation of Connecticut law for failing to register the drink with consumer protection prior to the sale. For non-alcoholic beverages, with the exception of milk and some fruit juices, state law requires disclosure of the potable water supply to ensure it is fit for consumption.

Neither Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen nor Senator Richard Blumenthal could be reached Tuesday for comment.

Reach Rick Thomason by email at, or by phone at 860-489-3121, ext. 333. Follow him on Twitter @RickThomason