Father reveals reason why he shared hospital photo of son who died in ‘TikTok Benadryl challenge’

Jacob Stevens, 13, died six days after attempting the deadly challenge

Andrea Blanco,Chelsea Ritschel
Wednesday 26 April 2023 09:16 BST
Teen overdoses on Benadryl in deadly TikTok challenge

The grieving father of a 13-year-old boy who overdosed on Benadryl has opened up about the dangerous trend that led to his son’s death.

Jacob Stevens died six days after attempting the deadly “Benadryl TikTok challenge,” which involves young users of the platform consuming enough of the over-the-counter medication to induce hallucinations. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the teen’s father Justin Stevens shared a heartbreaking picture of his young son in a hospital bed, where he spent a week hooked onto a ventilator before he was pronounced dead on 12 April.

Now, Mr Stevens is spreading awareness about the dangerous trend in an attempt to prevent other families from experiencing the pain he is going through.

“Kids always think, you know, ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’” Mr Stevens told The Independent in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I believe when you’re seeing the picture, the reality does hit you, as opposed to just hearing the story. Just look at that little boy laying in bed like that. It’s an ugly picture, it’s not the picture we’d want to show of him.”

The grieving father has also vowed to advocate for age restrictions on TikTok. Mr Stevens said that his mother contacted Ohio Governor Mike Dewine to inquire about the possible steps that can be taken in legislation to avoid another tragedy.

“We haven’t heard anything back from him yet, but the lieutenant governor did contact us,” Mr Stevens said.

Mr Stevens said he hopes his son’s story can make an impact on young teens thinking about attempting the challenge.

“He’d laugh and chuckle, he was a jokester. He liked to have a good time,” Mr Stevens said. “Now he’s gone and we’ll never have him again.”

Jacob’s father Justin Stevens shared a distressing picture of his young son in a hospital bed, where he spent a week hooked onto a ventilator before he was pronounced dead on 12 April (Justin Stevens/Facebook)

The “Benadryl challenge” began circulating on the social media platform in 2020, at which point the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about the dangers associated with taking higher than recommended doses of the allergy medication.

At the time, the agency cited reports of teenagers ending up in the hospital after participating in the challenge. According to the FDA, participating in the dangerous trend could lead to “serious heart problems, seizures, coma, or even death”.

Jacob’s family created a GoFundMe that raised more than $10,000, surpassing its $4,000 goal, to cover funeral costs.

“No mother should have to say goodbye to their baby,” Jacob’s relative wrote in the description, in which she also noted that she is confident her nephew “didn’t think this was going to be the outcome”.

In an obituary written by Jacob’s family, the 13-year-old is remembered as a “well-mannered, funny, loving kid” who enjoyed “listening to music, playing football, and hanging out with his friends”.

(GoFundMe / Jacob Stevens)

The FDA previously revealed that it contacted TikTok about the dangerous videos and “to be vigilant to remove additional videos that may be posted”.

At the time, the agency also said healthcare professionals should be “aware” of the challenge and “alert caregivers” about the trend. They also noted that the allergy medication, and other prescription and over-the-counter medicines, should be stored “up and away”.

The death from the TikTok challenge comes after Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, said it had treated three teens hospitalised after consuming “excessive amounts” of the medication.

TikTok has since banned searches for “Benadryl” on the app. However, attempts to look up the name of the allergy medication now result in other suggestions, such as the “bena challenge” or the “benary changle,” which include videos about the dangerous trend.

In a statement to The Independent following the boy’s death, a spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family. At TikTok, we strictly prohibit and remove content that promotes dangerous behaviour with the safety of our community as a priority.

“We have never seen this type of content trend on our platform and have blocked searches for years to help discourage copycat behaviour. Our team of 40,000 safety professionals works to remove violations of our Community Guidelines and we encourage our community to report any content or accounts they’re concerned about.”

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