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Dos and Don’ts: Codeine Consumption, Detection, and Treatment

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

What is codeine?

More often than not, people think of codeine as a post-injury treatment or a drug that reduces, if not eliminates, pain. True enough, codeine is a painkiller used to treat pain after an operation or an injury. It is also used for long-lasting pain in the event that regular painkillers, like ibuprofen, paracetamol, or aspirin, have been ineffective.

Codeine is available on prescription although you can purchase lower-strength codeine from a pharmacy. It comes in different forms such as tablets, a syrup or as an injection. Codeine injections, however, are usually only given in a hospital. It can also be used to treat diarrhea or if used as its syrup form, dry coughs.

Codeine can be risky

Although codeine is considered an effective pain-relief drug, serious concerns regarding the safety of codeine use in children have already been identified. According to Livingstone et.al., 1.03 million children have been administered codeine in 2013. Among these children, those ages 12 - 17 make up the majority of the selection.

Concerns regarding the use of codeine first emerged after a 2-year old was reported dead in 2009 after being administered codeine following a tonsillectomy. In addition to this, an article written by Kelly et.al. mentions about two children ages 3 to 5 dying and another one experiencing severe respiratory depression after receiving the recommended dose of codeine after an adenotonsillectomy.

Increasing codeine intake

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Like any other postoperative drug, codeine is safe when taken as prescribed. The problems arise when it is taken at high doses. Just like any opiate, taking a large amount of codeine can cause your body to develop a tolerance to it.

This increase in tolerance means that it will be less and less effective at relieving your pain and you may grow dependent on it. The more dependent on it you get, the more you will have to take for your pain and the more you have to take, the higher your risk for an overdose.

How can codeine be detected in the body?

Like any other drug, codeine can best be detected via urine tests, blood tests, hair testing, or sweat tests via sweat patches.

What impacts detection?

There are many factors that influence how long codeine stays in your system. Some of these variables include:

  • Presence of health conditions

  • Lifestyle

  • Age and weight

  • Dosage amount

  • Frequency of use

  • Metabolism rate

  • Hydration level

How does the body process codeine?

Your liver is the organ responsible for processing codeine. Normally, it would take your liver 3 to 4 hours to metabolize it. In the time that your liver is processing what you have ingested, the plasma in your blood also contributes to metabolism of what you ingested.

For codeine, the process is a bit faster as 90% of it gets eliminated in your urine within the first 24 hours of ingesting it. However, codeine may still be detected in your system for up to 24 more hours after that time passes.

It is important to know exactly what codeine can do to your body as sometimes, people tend to ingest it for more than its intended use. In some cases, misuse of codeine can lead to an addiction and you might find yourself lost, unaware of the various risks it poses to your health.

Codeine Overdose

A codeine overdose is basically what happens when you take more codeine than the prescribed amount and you experience adverse effects. Some of the signs you can look for to know that a person may be taking more codeine than prescribed are as follows:

  • Low blood pressure

  • Bluish fingernails and lips

  • Breathing problems (i.e. slow and labored breathing, shallow breathing, no breathing)

  • Lightheadedness

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Cold, clammy skin

  • Itching

  • Stomach spasms and constipation

  • Muscle twitches

It is important to note, however, that these symptoms can also be present when you take the prescribed dosage. With that in mind, taking codeine under medical supervision is ideal.

What to do in case of an overdose

In the event that you or your loved one is experiencing an overdose, immediately call your local emergency number or your local poison center for immediate medical treatment. You may also opt to take the person straight to the hospital if your local emergency unit is taking too long to arrive.

Do keep in mind that prevention is always better than a cure. Ensuring that a loved one is not abusing codeine is the best way for you to help them. If you or a loved one is using codeine irregularly, there is no need to panic or lose hope. Treatment centers are readily available to address problems concerning codeine use.

Treating a Codeine Overdose

Once you arrive at the emergency room, expect that health care providers will immediately monitor your vitals. They will also administer tests such as, but not limited to, CT scans, chest x-rays, and ECGs.

Upon having been diagnosed with a codeine overdose, you may be given fluids intravenously as well as medicine to counter the effects and symptoms of the painkiller. Given that the drug generally slows down your bodily functions, you may also be given breathing support (e.g. mouth tube and ventilator) to aid with your breathing and oxygen level.

Get the right treatment today

Here at Recovery Blvd, we can put the reality of codeine addiction far behind you. We have a variety of services aimed at curbing the progression of addiction and helping you to develop a whole new path and perspective on life.

Among our high-quality services and interventions include:

  • Advanced Relapse Prevention;

  • Substance Abuse Counseling; and

  • Recovery Crossfit.

With just enough help and the right care, you can embark on a new journey to a better tomorrow.

Take the first step towards embracing the best you could become by giving us a call at (866) 231-3007. Visit our alcohol and drug rehab center in Portland at 1316 SE 12th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214, to book an appointment.

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