Also Known As: Syrup, Nurofen Plus/Max, Cough Syrup, Codis500
Codeine is an opiate drug used to treat mild to moderate pain. It is available either from doctors as a prescription only medicine or directly from a pharmacy combined in lower doses with aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol. It is used to treat pain that does not respond to simple painkillers.
Codeine is available in tablet form, as a syrup (e.g. as a cough syrup) and as a solution for injection.
Codeine is normally swallowed. Some people misusing the medicine prefer to crush up the tablets and snort them, and some may try to inject the crushed tablets or solution.
Codeine has similar effects to the other opiates, feelings of warmth and well-being, calm, relaxation and sleepiness. Codeine can also cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, drowsiness, confusion, sweating, itching, dry mouth, mood swings and feelings of lethargy.
Taking codeine does involve risks. It can lower blood pressure and can suppress normal breathing, and so can increase the risk of respiratory arrest (when you stop breathing altogether). There is more risk of overdose and death if you are mixing too much codeine with other drugs that suppress breathing such as alcohol, benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium), or other opiate drugs.
When a higher than recommended dose of codeine is taken in a tablet combined with another type of painkiller (commonly paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen), there is a real risk of experiencing the side-effects of these other drugs. And whilst these other drugs may seem harmless in normal doses, they can cause really serious problems in overdose – with risks of kidney failure, liver failure, and of indigestion or bleeding from the stomach, which can be fatal.
As with other opiates, taking very high doses of codeine during pregnancy may lead to withdrawal symptoms in new born babies.
Codeine is a substance controlled under Class B of the Misuse of Drugs Act. That means it’s illegal to have, give away or sell. Codeine on its own is only available on prescription, unauthorised possession can get you up to five years in jail and an unlimited fine. Supplying someone else, including your friends, can get you up to 14 years and an unlimited fine.
Small amounts of codeine are in some medicines which can be bought without prescription but only in pharmacies. These medicines include cough syrups, and tablets or capsules where the codeine is combined with other medicines, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, for treating headaches, period pain etc. Codeine containing medicines carry warnings on the packs about the risk of addiction and advise that the non-prescription medicines should only be used for up to three days at a time without medical advice.
Remember: Having a criminal record can make it difficult for you to get a job or visa if you want to travel abroad.
What’s the difference between possession & supply (dealing)? What happens if you’re under 16? Learn more about drugs and the law.