“Allergic to the truth” (Benadryl Challenge)

In August, an Oklahoma teen reportedly died of a Benadryl overdose, said to be the tragic result of a social media dare to get high by popping the allergy pills.

Did this happen and, if so, how widespread is the trend? Is this something we should be terrified of or is a more measure response justified?

According to Reason’s Scott Shackford, the Benadryl Challenge has elements of truth. Three Texan teens, being young and quarantined, did have an emergency room excursion after overdosing on the over-the-counter medication. The stupidly curious (or curiously stupid) trio were treated at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. The facility claimed the idea came from a TikTok video whose producer promised that this misadventure would get users high and induce hallucinations. In another case, a 14-year-old girl was treated after popping one pill for each of her years on Earth. 

TikTok officials confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegramthat the company had removed content for encouraging the practice.

Later that month, KFOR and the New York Post reported that 15-year-old Chloe Phillips had died, with a deleted Facebook post from her great aunt blaming the challenge.

However, the reports lack any attribution from medical professionals confirming that as the cause. Further, other than the one deleted post, there were no quotes from family members suggesting that’s why the girl died. KFOR did interview Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, who explained how a Benadryl overdose can cause heart problems, seizures, and hallucinations. But there was nothing to tie that into the Phillips tragedy. Schaeffer later told Reason he had no reason to tie her death or any other to any Benadryl Challenge.

That leaves us with two instances in which a total of four youth sought medical treatment for an intentional overdose. None of them died. That has not stopped a moral panic from ensuing about a deadly trend, which by all available evidence, seems to be neither.

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