Fact Check

Is the 'Paracetamol Challenge' Real?

Published May 26, 2015


Claim: Teenagers are attempting the "paracetamol challenge," risking serious injury or death.


Has this ever actually happened, or is it just made up?

A friend posted on Facebook about a new "challenge" running rampant via social media dubbed the "Paracetamol challenge"

I hope no children are stupid enough to actually do this, but can't find any info online in regards to it's validity, so I'm asking for your help here!

Origins:> On 21 May 2015, the Scotsman published an article titled "Pupils Risking Lives in 'Paracetamol Challenge," about a supposed new social media craze that reportedly consists of youngsters encouraging each other "to take excessive amounts of paracetamol." (Paracetamol is better known as "acetaminophen" in the U.S.)

On 26 May 2015, British tabloid the Mirror followed suit by publishing an article titled "Paracetamol Challenge: Schoolchildren 'Risking Lives' in New Social Media Craze". Both articles claimed that warnings about the paracetamol challenge had originated in Scotland, where a teenager was purportedly hospitalized after attempting it:

Police and schools have sent warnings home to parents about the potentially lethal challenge which is being spread via Facebook and Instagram.

The first cases are believed to have happened in Ayrshire, Scotland, and reportedly led to one teenager ending up in hospital.

Neither article offered any specifics about the alleged adverse event in Scotland linked to the paracetamol challenge claims, but the Mirror's article linked to a tweet issued by police in the UK on 5 May 2015:

On 26 May 2015, the Mirror ran a second article about the paracetamol challenge. In that piece, the mother of a girl who died of a paracetamol overdose urged teens not to engage in the supposed social media craze. It's worth noting, however, that the teenager in question had died of an overdose of the over-the-counter painkiller back in 2011, in an incident unrelated to alleged current social media challenges.

On Twitter, a cursory search revealed significant chatter about the paracetamol challenge. However, the overwhelming majority of the tweets using a linked hashtag were either urging teens not to attempt the challenge or sharing news articles about the latest rumored craze in teen social media behaviors (or were instances of people piggybacking off the buzz to promote their own interests).

Lacking from all the handwringing was not only any evidence that teens were actually daring one another to overdose on paracetamol, but also any evidence that anyone (teenagers or otherwise) had engaged in such a pursuit at any time.

Of course, there's always an outside possibility some teens might see a news story about the paracetamol challenge and attempt it, but the panic has all the hallmarks of a news frenzy over purported teen behaviors with no basis in reality. Like rainbow parties, beezin', or smoking bedbugs to get high, the paracetamol challenge is impractical, implausible, and of limited interest to young people. No evidence exists anyone has engaged in or been harmed by it to date.

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.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.