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Antihistamine overdose killed baby, Hillsborough authorities say

TAMPA — A 5-month-old boy died last month after spending the day with a babysitter. No one was sure why.

Weeks passed before an autopsy could be completed.

Now, evidence points to an overdose of a common antihistamine, according to documents filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

De'Arron Deshazier died Aug. 1. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the cause to be intoxication by diphenhydramine and said the manner of death was "homicide (medicated by other person)." The baby also had obstructed airways, the documents state.

The drug is an ingredient in many over-the-counter medications, including Benadryl, Nytol, Sominex, Advil PM, Robitussin Night Time and Sudafed PE Severe Cold.

Sominex was found when deputies searched the babysitter's home Thursday, more than five weeks after the death, on a warrant obtained upon completion of the toxicology study.

Deputies are investigating how the baby came to ingest the diphenhydramine.

He was at the babysitter's home Aug. 1 for more than 12 hours, from 6:50 a.m. to 7:05 p.m., court records state. Sometime during that period, a caregiver noticed he was unresponsive and not breathing. The 911 call came at 7:05 p.m. The baby was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The medical examiner said the lethal dose had to have been administered within six hours of his death, the court records state.

De'Arron's parents, Akeena Sylvestre and Sharron Deshazier, could not be reached for comment Friday. Nor could the babysitter or her husband. No arrests have been made.

The investigation is very active and ongoing, said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

In interviews, deputies learned that De'Arron had not been sick or displaying symptoms that would warrant use of medication, the court records state.

Diphenhydramine is used to treat a variety of conditions, including irritated or watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose caused by hay fever, allergies and insomnia, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Some parents use it to help children sleep, though opinions vary widely on whether that is safe.

The American Society of Health System Pharmacists says the drug should not be used for that purpose.

James Hillman, a pediatric emergency physician and medical toxicologist at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, said diphenhydramine can be safely given for sleep.

"But I wouldn't make it a daily habit," he said.

He said ingesting high levels could cause symptoms such as rapid heart rate, elevated temperature and agitation. He added that "sufficient overdose can cause symptoms to the point of major disability or death."

De'Arron had 0.13 milligrams of the drug in his peripheral blood, the court records state, noting that a normal dose for a child would only leave 0.02 milligrams or lower in a child's peripheral blood.

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at rmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373. Staff writer Dan Sullivan and news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Antihistamine overdose killed baby, Hillsborough authorities say 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 1:10pm]
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