Sept. 21, 2022 – The FDA has issued a warning against cooking chicken in NyQuil after a social media challenge that encouraged people to try it went viral.

Called the “sleepy chicken challenge,” the trend tells people to cook chicken in NyQuil or similar over-the-counter cough and cold medications, which include ingredients such as acetaminophen, dextromethorphan and doxylamine.

“The challenge sounds silly and unappetizing – and it is. But it could also be very unsafe,” the FDA said. “Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways.”

Even if someone doesn’t plan to eat the chicken, inhaling the vapors of the medication while it cooks could cause high levels of the drug to enter the body.

“It could also hurt your lungs,” the FDA said. “Put simply: Someone could take a dangerously high amount of the cough and cold medicine without even realizing it.”

This isn’t the first time that social media challenges involving medicine have gone viral. In a 2020 TikTok challenge, people were encouraged to take large doses of the allergy medicine diphenhydramine, called the “Benadryl challenge,” to cause hallucinations. The FDA received several reports of teens who were hospitalized or died, and it issued a warning about taking high doses of the drug.

“These video challenges, which often target youths, can harm people – and even cause death,” the FDA said. “Nonprescription (also called over-the-counter or OTC) drugs are readily available in many homes, making these challenges even more risky.”

In the latest warning, the FDA provided several ways for parents to make it less likely for children to do the social media challenges, such as locking up prescription and over-the-counter medications to prevent accidental overdoses. The FDA also encouraged parents and guardians to have open conversations with their children.

"Sit down with your children and discuss the dangers of misusing drugs and how social media trends can lead to real, sometimes irreversible, damage,” the FDA said. “Remind your children that overdoses can occur with OTC drugs as well as with prescription drugs.”

Following the FDA warning, the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued an advisory about social media trends. Some challenges, such as the ALS ice bucket challenge or the mannequin challenge, can be fun and positive activities. But medication-related challenges, such as the sleepy chicken and Benadryl challenges, can cause serious heart problems, seizures, coma and even death.

“Teens’ brains are still developing. The part of the brain that handles rational thought, the prefrontal cortex, is not fully developed until the mid-20s,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said. “This means teens are naturally more impulsive and likely to act before thinking through all of the ramifications.”

Social media rewards outrageous behavior, it wrote, and the more outrageous the behavior, the more likely someone will get more engagement online.

“It’s a quick moving, impulsive environment, and the fear of losing out is real for teens,” the academy said. “What they will focus on is that a popular kid in class did this and got hundreds of likes and comments.”

The academy suggested that parents and guardians talk with teens about which challenges are trending on social media and at school.

“Sometimes kids are more willing to talk about their peers than themselves,” it said. “Asking questions about school trends, friends and fads may yield more answers than direct questions about their own activities.”

If a child has taken too much medication and is hallucinating, can’t be woken up, is having a seizure, has trouble breathing, has collapsed, or is showing other signs of drug misuse, someone should call 911 for medical attention right away or call poison control at 800-222-1222.

Show Sources

FDA: “A Recipe for Danger: Social Media Challenges Involving Medicines,” “FDA warns about serious problems with high doses of the allergy medicine diphenhydramine (Benadryl).”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Dangerous Internet Challenges – Understanding Their Appeal to Kids.”

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