Prescription and Over-The-Counter Medication


FDA warns about serious problems with high doses of the allergy medicine diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that 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. There are several reports of teenagers ending up in emergency rooms or dying after participating in the “Benadryl Challenge” encouraged in videos posted on the social media application TikTok.

Fast Facts: Prescription Drugs

When used as prescribed by a doctor, prescription medicines can be helpful in treating many illnesses. However, when these medicines are misused, they can have serious consequence. The three classes of prescription drugs are most often abused are opioids, depressants and stimulants.

  • Opioids are used for pain relief. Examples include Vicodin or Oxycontin.
  • Depressants are used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep. Examples include Xanax or Valium. 
  • Stimulants are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Examples include Adderall or Ritalin.

When prescription drugs are abused, they can become addictive and put you at risk for harmful health effects, including:

  • Sleepiness and disorientation
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature
  • Shallow/slowed breathing
  • Paranoia
  • Constipation and upset stomach

Fast Facts: Over-The-Counter Medication

Over-the-counter medication, such as cough and cold medicine, can be purchased without a prescription from a doctor. These medications are safe to use when you follow the directions on the label and as directed by your health care providers. 

Some cold medication contains the ingredient DXM (dextromethorphan). If someone abuses this medication and takes higher doses than recommended, harmful health effects can occur. These include: dizziness; double or blurred vision; slurred speech; abdominal pain; nausea and vomiting; rapid heartbeat; drowsiness; and coma or death.


Learn how the City of Alexandria is addressing the opioid epidemic at alexandriava.gov/opioids

Learn more about other resources to preventing prescription and over-the-counter medication abuse: