Non-Prescription Cough Syrup with Codeine: What is Codeine?
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Learn more about Codeine
What is a Non-Prescription Cough Syrup?
A non-prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrup is the kind of medicine that a person can easily obtain without a doctor’s prescription. The most common brand names of OTC cough syrups include Triaminic Cold and Cough, Robitussin Cough, Vicks 44 Cough and Cold. These belong to the antitussive and expectorant type of cough medicine.
What is Codeine?
Codeine is an opiate-based substance which has numerous beneficial effects. It can be used to treat mild to severe pain, and can also treat diarrhea and cough. When used to alleviate cough symptoms, it exudes its suppressant effects that can subdue or even end chronic coughing, which medical professionals refer to as an antitussive property.
Is Codeine an Ingredient in Cough Syrups?
Codeine is one of the main ingredients in many cough syrups, which has proved to be effective. However, most cough syrups containing Codeine are only available with a prescription in the U.S. Very rarely can Codeine be found in non-prescription cough medicine; one of the underlying reasons for that is its dangerous effects when administered to small children. Since Codeine is an active ingredient in cough syrups, it changes its molecular structure as the liver metabolizes it, i.e. Codeine turns into morphine. Morphine can pose a variety of risks that can negatively affect a child’s bio-physical development.
What are the Side Effects of Non-Prescription Cough Syrup With Codeine?
Side effects may include:
Can Codeine Be Abused?
Codeine may be less dangerous and addictive than alternative opioids, but that doesn’t mean it is safe to use in doses higher than recommended. It has just as much potential to be abused as other opioids, especially when Codeine is combined with Tylenol.
Approximately one in ten teens in the United States, uses codeine cough syrup to get high. This highlights how easily accessed and abused Codeine is.
It is estimated that over 3 million people between the ages of 12-25 will abuse Codeine to get high.
Where Can Codeine Be Found?
Codeine, also referred to as methylmorphine, is derived from the poppy plant, or more precisely, the dried milky substance of the unripe seed capsule of Papaver somniferum. It is considered to be the weakest of the opiate derivatives, which is why people often think it is practically a risk-free substance that they can take for colds and flues. However, even though Codeine is the weakest opiate known to man, thus far, it should not be taken carelessly, since it can cause the same side effects as any other opioid. Side effects may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Dry mouth
What to Consider Before Taking Codeine Cough Syrup?
Since Codeine is an opiate, there is a potential for an overdose. If one does not follow the instructions indicated on the syrup bottle or fails to obey the doctor’s guidelines, an overdose may occur. Symptoms of Codeine overdose include confusion, constipation, dizziness, cold skin, and breathing problems. If any of these signs start to show after one has ingested a considerable amount of Codeine-based cough syrup, immediately call 9-1-1.
Furthermore, Codeine cough syrup should not be taken if the patient is:
- a child
- suffering from pulmonary diseases
- allergic to codeine
- ingested sodium oxybate (ghb)
- pregnant/ planning on becoming pregnant
Natural Alternatives To Codeine
There are several more natural alternatives to using Codeine for a cough, including:
Honey helps to soothe a sore throat and ease a cough. If it is used with warm water and lemon or lemonade it can also help to ease congestion. Alternatively eating honey works just as well!
Peppermint has quite a few healing properties. This menthol in peppermint helps to soothe the throat and ease congestion by clearing up mucus. Peppermint can help in a bath or when consumed in tea.
Thyme is commonly used for respiratory illnesses. Its leaves contain a compound called flavonoids which relax throat muscles and lessen inflammation.
Gargling Salt and Water
A quarter of a teaspoon of salt with warm water can be a very simple but effective cure to a sore throat or cough. It works by soothing the throat, taking away the desire to cough.
Codeine may be less addictive than other opioids but it is still possible to get hooked. When a user has stopped taking the drug for a while or is going through a detox they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Stomach Pains
- Mood Swings
- Anxiety and Depression
Codeine withdrawal symptoms aren’t life threatening, however one should seek help on how to treat them, as they can lead to further health issues. For example, diarrhea can lead to further dehydration which can cause fainting.
Codeine withdrawal is usually quick to present itself, with symptoms becoming noticeable just a few hours after the last dose. Some of the mental symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, can last months and have been known to last up to a year after a user quits.
The severity and length of withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long the user was taking the drug, in what dosage and their choice of withdrawal method.
The physical symptoms of withdrawal will be most evident in the first 4 days. They will usually start to subside within a week. This is when psychological symptoms tend to set and take affect. After 30 days, all symptoms with the exception of depression and anxiety should have gone. The depression and anxiety may stay for a while longer but will eventually subside as well.
Detoxification From Codeine
It may be the case that the users have actively started to seek out Codeine when it is not needed. It may put one in financial problems or ruin the relationship. These are also a signs of Codeine addiction. To beat the addiction one will need to go through a drug detox. In this case, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional, to make sure to get suitable treatment.
Tapering off Codeine use is usually recommended. This is when one gradually reduces the intake of a drug over a period of time until they’ll feel not relying on it at all. This method’s withdrawal symptoms are far less severe. Although it takes longer to complete, many people prefer tapering off, due to being able to continue with their everyday lives. Tapering off is usually monitored by a health professional, to ensure the patient stays on track.
Medical professionals may also use other substances in small doses to help prevent withdrawal symptoms such as cravings. This will help to taper off the use of Codeine. However, this method should always be monitored due to the danger of becoming addicted to the substitute drugs such as methadone or suboxone.
One can go through Codeine detoxification at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, so one can choose the treatment that suits the lifestyle.
Remember, even though Codeine is the weakest opioid, it can cause a variety of complications, which can severely affect one’s overall well-being.
- Gardiner SJ, Chang AB, Marchant JM, Petsky HL. Codeine versus placebo for chronic cough in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457872/
- Eddy NB, Friebel H, Hahn KJ, Halbach H. Codeine and its alternates for pain and cough relief. I. Codeine, exclusive of its antitussive action. Bull World Health Organ. 1968;38(5):673-741 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2554686/
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