Allergy Meds May Make Drug Overdoses More Dangerous, CDC Says

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About 15% of overdose deaths included antihistamines mixed with other drugs.

Antihistamines were involved in at least 15% of recent overdose deaths, according to 2019-2020 data from 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Of 92,033 overdose deaths during this time period, 14.7% were antihistamine-positive and 3.6% were antihistamine-involved, reported Amanda Dinwiddie, MPH, of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, and co-authors.

Nearly all of these deaths included first-generation H1 antihistamines, primarily diphenhydramine (Benadryl; 71.1% of antihistamine-positive deaths and 66.5% of antihistamine-involved deaths), they noted in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

First-generation H1 antihistamines are often used to treat allergy symptoms or aid sleep. They can cause sedative effects that may worsen when used with other sedative drugs like opioids.

They are also found in illicit drugs, Dinwiddie and co-authors noted.

“Diphenhydramine, a common over-the-counter first-generation H1 antihistamine, has been combined with opioids as an adulterant in illicit drug supply and can be used to reduce opioid-related side effects (e.g., itchy skin because of histamine release from opioid use),” they wrote.

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