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Viral ‘Benadryl Challenge’ shines light on dangers of the over-the-counter medication

Photo of pills

FOR RELEASE: September 25, 2020

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Each year the Upstate New York Poison Center receives hundreds of exposure calls for diphenhydramine (the generic name; Benadryl is the brand name). Benadryl is one of our more common overdose calls to the poison center. Since the drug can cause hallucinations, it is often misused/abused because it is easy to obtain in liquid or pill form.

So far in 2020, we have handled 300 cases of intentional exposures related to Benadryl (abuse, misuse, and suicide). Of those, 114 cases were for people younger than 20 years old. While it is unknown how many (if any) were directly related to the Benadryl Challenge (callers often do not disclose this information), we did see a very slight bump in cases regarding Benadryl from the time the challenge started in May until late September compared to the same time frame last year. Additionally, The FDA announced this weekthey are aware of the challenge and warned “taking higher than recommended doses of the common over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can lead to serious heart problems, seizures, coma, or even death.”

“This viral ‘challenge’ is sadly shedding light on the devastating effects of the abuse of Benadryl. Each year our poison center is flooded with calls because a child accidentally found the medicine, or a teen intentionally swallowed too many pills” says Michele Caliva, administrative director at the Upstate New York Poison Center, “Just because it is an over-the-counter medication does not make it safe. This medicine should only be used as directed.”

Our poison center urges parents and caregivers to:

  • Remind teens just because something is purchased over-the-counter does not mean it's safe. It can have just as many consequences
  • Limit the amount of over-the counter medicines in your cabinets that are accessible to kids
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of over-the-counter medications
  • Get rid of old/unused medications and drop off for free at these locations: https://bit.ly/3hWG4tW

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.