American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

View all recommendations from this society

Released February 21, 2013

Don’t use topical lorazepam (Ativan), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), haloperidol (Haldol) (“ABH”) gel for nausea.

Topical drugs can be safe and effective, such as topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for local arthritis symptoms. However, while topical gels are commonly prescribed in hospice practice, anti-nausea gels have not been proven effective in any large, well-designed or placebo-controlled trials. The active ingredients in ABH are not absorbed to systemic levels that could be effective. Only diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is absorbed via the skin, and then only after several hours and erratically at subtherapeutic levels. It is therefore not appropriate for “as needed” use. The use of agents given via inappropriate routes may delay or prevent the use of more effective interventions.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s (AAHPM) president appointed a special task force to coordinate the development of the Academy’s recommendations. Chaired by a member of the Board of Directors who had previously overseen AAHPM’s education and training committees, the task force included representatives of the Academy’s Quality and Practice Standards Task Force, Research Committee, Ethics Committee, Public Policy Committee and External Awareness Task Force, as well as at-large appointees that represent distinguished leaders in the field. The task force solicited input from AAHPM’s 17 Special Interest Groups, and task force members also offered their own suggestions for the list. Considering the potential impact and evidence to support the proposed recommendations, the task force identified seven finalists for which a rationale and evidence base was further developed. All AAHPM members were invited to comment on and rank these seven recommendations. Member feedback informed the task force’s final deliberation, which included narrowing the list to the “Five Things” and refining the verbiage of the recommendations. The list was then reviewed and approved by the AAHPM Executive Committee.

AAHPM’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at


Smith TJ, Ritter JK, Poklis JL, Fletcher D, Coyne PJ, Dodson P, Parker G. ABH gel is not absorbed from the skin of normal volunteers. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012;43(5):961-966.

Weschules DJ. Tolerability of the compound ABHR in hospice patients. J Palliat Med. 2005;8(6):1135-1143.