The so-called #paracetamolchallenge is a hoax, but one which could still be dangerous if teenagers believe it to be an actual social media phenomenon, says Young Pharmacist of the Year Taren Gill.
In recent days articles about the challenge, in which participants reportedly encourage each other to take excessive amounts of paracetamol and post about it on social media, appeared in UK newspapers, citing a case in Scotland where a teenager was hospitalised.
Another article quoted a mother whose 19-year-old daughter died from a paracetamol overdose in 2011. Reports of the Challenge have circulated only in the last week.
But snopes.com reports that there is no evidence young people are daring each other to take excessive doses of paracetamol, and the #paracetamolchallenge hashtag is mainly populated with tweets discouraging teenagers from attempting it.
“Considering the claim is framed as a “social media challenge” but was non-apparent as an actual challenge spread via social media, the likelihood of its legitimacy was highly questionable on that basis alone,” Snopes says.
Taren Gill, 2014 PSA Young Pharmacist of the Year, told the AJP that even if the challenge is a hoax, it highlights the important role young pharmacists can play in educating young people about the safe use of medicines.
“I certainly do hope it’s a hoax, but a 13-year-old doesn’t necessarily know that,” she told the AJP.
“There’s a whole new generation of young people getting access to the medicines that can be bought in a supermarket and they need education about it.
“Young pharmacists have a role here in educating the social media-savvy generation – we’re social media savvy ourselves, and so we’re the right people to have the conversation.
“If this was the latest fad on social media, the evidence is clear: medications have no place in a challenge online and we need to be educating young and impressionable people on the quality use of medicines.”
The paracetamol challenge may not be a real phenomenon, but the abuse of OTC medicines remains a real problem, Gill says.
“Of all the things for a hoax to be about: you’re not going to get high on paracetamol. It’s not a party drug. There’s no codeine. If it had been Panadeine I’d understand, but plain old paracetamol in excess amounts gives you nothing but liver death.
“Codeine abuse I’ve seen a lot of first-hand, though. When you used to be able to buy Panadeine 100 packs and Nurofen Plus 75 packs, people would buy one a day, pop it out and take the whole lot, and it’s not the codeine that does the damage, it’s just what they need to get high.
“It’s the ibuprofen that gives you the gastric and kidney side effects, or the paracetamol doing liver damage.
“While I think it wouldn’t be useful for us to go to Schedule 4 on codeine, it’s where the real problem lies and it’s at least become harder, since those days, to abuse it the way people were.”