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TikTok 'Benadryl challenge' continues despite FDA warning of overdose fatalities

'Short-lived fame not worth the harmful impacts,' says Arlington PD chief as city issues warning against TikTok challenge
UPDATED SEP 23, 2021
The drug Benadryl in a pharmacy on December 11, 2002, in New York City (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The drug Benadryl in a pharmacy on December 11, 2002, in New York City (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Back in August 2020, the 'Benadryl challenge' quickly took over TikTok before being widely slammed by doctors and the FDA. A year later, little appears to have changed with a Massachusetts police department having to issue a warning again. It comes due to reports of further hospitalizations as kids attempt the medically dangerous stunt. 

In August 2020, we reported on the death of a 15-year-old girl from Oklahoma due to the Benadryl challenge. As reports spiked, in September, the FDA was forced to issue a warning about the challenge and asked TikTok to remove any associated videos. The news came at a tough time for TikTok, which was already receiving widespread flak for several viral challenges that have killed users. 


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Since the FDA warning, it appears reports of the Benadryl challenge have dropped considerably, but they haven't gone away. If anything, it appears the challenge continued to go viral under the radar. That is until the Arlington Police Department came out with a warning on September 21. "Officials do not believe that these 'challenges' are a prevalent issue in Arlington, but officials would like families to be aware," the press release said.

The download page for the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Social media fame 'not worth' impacts

It's unclear what prompted the press release, the department did not respond to requests for comment. The release was issued by APD Chief Julie Flaherty, Arlington Department of Health and Human Services Director Christine Bongiorno, and Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, Elizabeth Homan. "By spreading awareness about the challenge and its negative effects, we hope to educate parents and teens alike about these reckless and dangerous social media posts," Bongiorno said.

The APD also noted "families are advised to secure and lock up allergy medicine", and dispose of any unwanted or expired medication. "Additionally, school districts across the nation have reported an uptick in vandalism and stealing as a result of the viral “Devious Licks” Challenge," the release noted. The challenge sees students steal or vandalize school property, which Himan said, "is not harmless" and that "students could get in serious trouble if they participate."

But while the Devious Licks challenge doesn't lead to hospitalization, the same cannot be said of the Benadryl challenge. In May, three Texas teens were hospitalized after taking excessive Benadryl. Doing so "can lead to serious heart problems, seizures, coma, or even death," the FDA warned. It's unclear exactly how many TikTokers died or were hospitalized due to the challenge, but the FDA did note there were multiple reports. 

To combat the challenge, the APD has opened a secured dropbox that is open 24x7 to "safely dispose of any unused, unwanted or expired medications." The box was installed way back in 2012 but is getting more prominence due to the Benadryl challenge. "We urge parents to talk to their students about these dangerous trends and the implications of these types of actions," Chief Flaherty said. "Short-lived fame on social media is not worth the potentially harmful impacts that these trends could have."