A 16-Year-Old Died From A Rare, But Possible, Caffeine Overdose

by Alexandra Strickler
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Back in April, a South Carolina high school student collapsed and passed away suddenly while he was in class.

While the results of his initial autopsy were inconclusive, the coroner's office has now determined 16-year-old Davis Allen Cripe died as a result of a caffeine overdose.

Richland County coroner Gary Watts spoke of the teen's tragic circumstances in a press conference on May 15.

He said,

We lost Davis from a totally legal substance. It was so much caffeine at the time of his death, that it caused his arrhythmia.

An arrhythmia is an unusual heart rhythm, which can mean a person's heart rate is too slow, too fast, or simply irregular.

Cripe's autopsy revealed no signs of an underlying heart condition, meaning the arrhythmia appears to have happened as a direct result of the amount of caffeine Cripe drank, Vice reports.

According to US News & World Report, in the two hours before he collapsed, Cripe had a large Mountain Dew, a McDonald's latte and an energy drink.

Though it's impossible to determine exactly how much total caffeine these three drinks contained, we can estimate some of the average numbers from the beverages' websites.

Mountain Dew

A "large" Mountain Dew is likely between 20 and 24 fluid ounces, which contain 91 milligrams and 108 milligrams of caffeine, respectively, averaging to 99 milligrams of caffeine. Again, there's no way to determine the definite "large" size Cripe consumed; these are all estimates.

McDonald's Latte

It's unclear what size latte Cripe ordered from McDonald's, but a small size (12 fluid ounces) contains 71 milligrams of caffeine, while a medium (16 fluid ounces) has 142 milligrams, totaling to an average of around 107 milligrams.


An energy drink

And finally, Cripe had an energy drink before his tragic death, though no reports have specified what brand or type of beverage it actually was.

Let's say, for argument's sake, he drank a Red Bull. An 8.46 fluid ounce can contain 80 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12 fluid ounce can yields 113.5 milligrams of caffeine.

Averaging these out, the 16-year-old may have consumed about 97 milligrams of caffeine from his energy drink.

This brings us to an average total of 303 milligrams of caffeine, all of which was allegedly consumed in just two hours.

To put this in context, the USDA recommends an upper limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which translates to about three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee.

So, technically, Cripe didn't even reach, let alone surpass, the maximum amount of caffeine a person should consume in a day. But, of course, the brief window of time in which he had all three of these caffeine-heavy beverages is certainly concerning.

Nonetheless, the teen's untimely death drives home an important point about how powerful caffeine can be, and how each person's body reacts differently to certain substances.

The coroner added during the press conference,

You can have five people line up and all of them do the exact same thing with him that day, drink more, and it may not have any type of effect on them at all.

Based on my own personal experience, the coroner's statement is absolutely true. Back in college, when I would cram for final exams, I regularly consumed similar amounts of caffeine (if not more), and within similar time windows.

If there's anything to take away from this story, it's that caffeine is, without a doubt, a drug, and we need to treat it as such.

Citations: Teenager Dies From Rare Caffeine Overdose (Refinery29), What is an Arrhythmia? (American Heart Association), A 16-Year-Old Died From Drinking Too Much Caffeine (Vice), Too Much Caffeine Helped Cause Teen's Death (US News & World Report), MTN DEW (Pepsico), Mountain Dew (Caffeine Informer), McCafe Coffee Caffeine Content (Caffeine Informer), Red Bull (Caffeine Informer)