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Study finds caffeine abuse among young Americans

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CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- Young Americans searching for a legal high or just trying to stay alert may be abusing caffeine pills, sending some to the hospital, a study said Monday.

The American College of Emergency Physicians said a review of records at the Illinois Poison Center in Chicago found more than 250 cases of medical complications from ingesting caffeine supplements, 12 percent of them requiring hospitalization, including treatment in intensive-care units.

The average age of those who had abused caffeine supplements over the course of the three years studied was 21. The research did not involve caffeine drinks such as coffee or cola.

"Part of the problem is that people do not think of caffeine as a drug but rather as a food product," said Dr. Danielle McCarthy, who led the Northwestern University study.

"We want people ingesting caffeine pills and supplements to know that caffeine is a drug and overuse is potentially harmful, especially when mixed with other pharmaceuticals for euphoria. There is a trend in the pro-drug culture toward promoting legal alternatives to illegal drugs and it can be very harmful," McCarthy said.

"Young people taking caffeine either to stay awake or for a feeling of euphoria, may actually end up in the emergency department more often than we think," she said, because young adults taken to a hospital for chest pains and heart palpitations are rarely asked if they've taken caffeine supplements.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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People don't think of caffeine as a drug but rather as a food product, one researcher said.

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