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Ecstasy-in-a-Can 

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What will L.A.’s party girls think of next? According to one Hollywood actor/comedian/fun gal, an energy drink called Red Bull, when spiked with a shot of vodka, is the next best thing to the illegal euphoria drug Ecstasy.

"It makes me feel surreal and ready to party," agreed her friend, a Westside reggae scene-maker.

Red Bull is one of a number of pep drinks, full of vitamins and other nutrients, increasingly seen in health clubs, convenience stores and clubs. Manufactured in Austria, Red Bull is widely available here and in Mexico, where it is a party staple. The ad copy on the back of the gray-and-blue can with the red-bull logo says that the lemon-lime-colored, syrupy beverage revitalizes body and mind and im-proves concentration and performance, especially during times of stress. But according to OffBeat’s party-circuit sources, it does much more.

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The aforementioned scenesters and their friends believe that a single 8.3-fluid-ounce can of Red Bull and a dose of vodka are enough for a whole night of One Love rapture. Even without the vodka, Red Bull packs a wake-up call comparable to three cups of coffee, without the jitters, OffBeat’s other friends say. (Caffeine-sensitive OffBeat’s own vodkaless Red Bull test — strictly a just-the-facts-ma’am research effort — kept her up all night.)

The energy drink’s rep has reached the World Wide Web (http://thebevnet.com/bevboard/ messages), where newsgroup writers say that the vodka-spiked beverage is a popular party drink in Austria called flugal. (Not surprisingly, given that country’s appetite for hard partying; 140 million cans were sold the world over in 1996.) In 1998, U.S. Red Bull imbibers complained to the Web site of side effects, including nausea, palpitations and heart arrhythmia. Another newsgroup contention — erroneous, according to manufacturers — is that Red Bull’s active ingredient, taurine, comes from real bull testicles.

Red Bull’s PR department says the drink does not induce druglike effects, with or without vodka. "I have heard all sorts of things about people mixing vodka and other beverages with Red Bull, but basically Red Bull has the same effect whether it is mixed or consumed straight," says Linda Pressel, director of marketing for Red Bull North America Inc. Taurine was first detected in cattle 20 years ago, hence its name, after Taurus the Bull. But the taurine in the Red Bull drink is produced synthetically, the company Web site says.

And what is taurine? According to Pressel, it is an amino acid produced naturally by the body that protects cells from breaking and regulates calcium concentrations in the heart and brain. Another key ingredient of the Red Bull drink is 80 milligrams of caffeine — about the same dosage as a cup of coffee, Pressel says. Red Bull did not undergo Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing, but it passed scrutiny by a panel of independent scientists, she adds.

The FDA agrees that Red Bull does not need the agency’s approval, because it is classified as a food. Unless there are complaints, the product will not undergo safety tests, FDA spokesman Brad Stone says. However, the FDA is looking into possible confusion between Red Bull and a Thai product named Red Bull Vitamin Supplement Drink. The supplement, manufactured by Pantai Food & Commerce Int’l Co. Ltd. of Bangkok, has been on the FDA’s import-alert list, meaning that border and postal agents have been ordered to confiscate it, since 1997, because it contains the illegal coloring agent Ponceau 4R, Stone says.

Whatever the reality behind the cloud of claims and counterclaims, Red Bull is big, and getting bigger. Manjit Singh, who manages the 7-Eleven at Hollywood Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, says the sales figures speak for themselves. "We go through five cases of 24 cans of Red Bull a week," he says. "It is by far the most popular energy drink we have."

—Christine Pelisek

INS KEEPSITSMALL

 

Immigrant-rights groups scored a victory this month that promises to give a group of immigrants some of the same rights enjoyed by criminals. That’s right, undocumented immigrants detained at the INS’s San Pedro facility can now enjoy such luxuries as placing direct calls from working telephones, access to legal counsel and even entry to a legal library.

This Pyrrhic victory came in settlement of a five-year legal battle against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). If the gains seems small, they are. The new rules apply only to about 500 men and women currently detained at the San Pedro facility. The majority of undocumented immigrants, who are held at the agency’s Lancaster center, won’t benefit.

But consider life before the settlement: "It was routine for an attorney to wait in excess of an hour just to meet with their client," says Neils Frenzen, one of the immigrant-rights attorneys who helped carve out the settlement. "In 1993 there were eight phones for 70 to 80 people, but half of them were out of order. That doesn’t happen anymore."

Problems at the San Pedro facility are long-standing and have prompted hunger strikes and other lawsuits. So why did it take five years to reach a settlement? That is what immigrant-rights groups would like to know. "This is pretty basic stuff. I mean, the cost of fixing these things is maybe $10,000," says Frenzen. Compare that with what the agency must have had to pay out in attorneys’ fees over the past few years. The INS was unavailable for comment. The agreement is expected to take effect in October after U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins approves the settlement.

—Sandra Hernandez

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