Codeine and opioid
Codeine is an opioid painkiller
In Australia, codeine is one of the most widely used prescription opioid painkillers. Also available directly from a pharmacy, misuse can lead to addiction – just as with other opioids, with similar signs, symptoms and risks.
Available with a prescription or in lower doses over-the-counter after consulting with a pharmacist, codeine has the same addictive qualities as other opioid painkillers such as tramadol, oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine. In fact, codeine actually converts to morphine in the body and people can process codeine at different rates, depending on their metabolism.
“Any medicine containing
codeine can lead to opioid
Pain or headache tablets, and even some cough medicines that you can buy from your pharmacy, sometimes contain codeine in combination with other pain killing medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. They may be sold under brand names or unbranded pharmacy names that are familiar and that you trust, however, any medicine containing codeine can lead to opioid painkiller addiction when misused.
Which medicines contain codeine?
- Soluble powders and tablets
It’s important to know if a medicine you have purchased from your pharmacy without a prescription contains codeine. The list below includes just a few of the more familiar brands, but don’t forget similar combinations can be sold under pharmacy-own brand names.
May provide relief from:
- • Mild-to-moderate pain
- • Cold & flu symptoms
Generally added for extra pain relief, but may also be added to help relieve:
- • Dry, irritating cough
- • Diarrhoea
|Common over-the-counter codeine combinations|
|Aspalgin® (aspirin and codeine)|
|Nurofen® Plus (ibuprofen and codeine)|
|Panadeine®, Panamax Co® (paracetamol and codeine)|
|Codral® Cold & Flu (paracetamol, phenylephrine hydrochloride, codeine)|
|Mersyndol®, Panalgesic® (paracetamol, codeine and doxylamine)|
If you are taking a codeine combination medicine, it’s very important to take it as directed, and to see your doctor for advice if your symptoms persist.
Should I be concerned about codeine addiction?
Codeine may be readily available without a prescription, but it has the same effect on the brain’s chemistry as other opioid painkillers – so caution needs to be taken. Misuse can still lead to addiction.
What other health issues can result from misuse of codeine medicines?
Taking codeine combination medicines more frequently than recommended may not only lead to a risk of opioid painkiller addiction. Taken in high doses, other drugs contained in the tablets, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can also cause harm. Regular or high doses of ibuprofen, for example, can cause serious harm to the stomach and kidneys, and high amounts of paracetamol can be toxic to the liver.
In addition, high doses of codeine can cause dangerous respiratory depression and even death, especially if combined with alcohol or other sedatives. Because of their capacity to cause respiratory depression, opioids like codeine are responsible for a high proportion of overdose-related deaths around the world each year.1
- Stomach and kidney damage
- Liver toxicity
- Bleeding in the stomach
- Stomach ulcers
Why am I being asked more questions when I buy codeine products at the pharmacy?
You may have noticed your pharmacist is asking more questions and making it more difficult to buy medicines containing codeine. By asking questions, pharmacists are aiming to support you in managing your pain, while also helping prevent the misuse of codeine painkiller medicines. This is important as codeine addiction is growing in Australia. A scheme is currently in progress to help identify and manage people at risk of codeine addiction, by monitoring codeine purchases from pharmacies.
What should I do if I suspect I may be addicted to codeine?
It is important to understand that addiction to opioid painkillers, including codeine combinations, can happen to anyone and doesn’t deserve blame.
If you think you may be addicted to codeine, you should seek help from your doctor. Doctors have a better understanding of addiction as a long-term disease, and have a number of options to help people manage their condition.
Want to find out if you may be at risk of opioid painkiller addiction?Take the test
If you experience any side effects related to codeine that concern you, or you think you might have an addiction to codeine, it’s important to speak with a doctor.