What is a Codeine Overdose?

What is a codeine overdose? Codeine is a natural opiate. This means it’s found naturally in the opium poppy. However, the small amounts found in the plant are not enough for worldwide medicine needs. As a result, most codeine is produced from morphine. In fact, another name for codeine is methylmorphine. Codeine is a weak opiate. Moreover, taking much more than a therapeutic dose results in intense itching for many people. For these reasons, even avid opiophiles typically avoid abusing this drug in large amounts.

Codeine is rarely abused intravenously by anyone. Symptoms of a codeine overdose resemble that of an opioid overdose:

  • Slurring words and stumbling gait
  • Nodding off
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blue lips and nail beds
  • Slow breathing
  • Unable to rouse the person
  • Pinpoint pupils

Lean and Purple Drank

Codeine is the main ingredient in a popular party concoction known as a lean or purple drink. It’s a combination of codeine and promethazine cough syrup, sometimes combined with alcohol and a Jolly Rancher candy. It’s called lean because the preparation supposedly causes the user to lean to one side as the drug takes effect. Purple drank refers to the color of a particular manufacturer’s product.

Promethazine is not a controlled substance. In fact, it’s chemically related to a major tranquilizer known as Thorazine, used to treat psychosis and serious mental disorders like schizophrenia. Promethazine is not used for that purpose, but most often it’s used for nausea, vomiting, and pre-surgery sedation. By itself, it has no euphoric effects.

However, when combined with codeine, promethazine becomes what is known as a potentiator. This means that it increases the effects of the codeine. This effect can be profound and has led to much concern over the abuse of lean and purple drank. In fact, many pharmacies have given up trying to determine who is a legitimate codeine and promethazine patient and who is not. They see so much abuse, that they just stopped stocking the drug altogether. You may notice signs in pharmacies in your area to that effect.

When sold in a pharmacy, codeine with promethazine syrup is pretty cheap. However, its value as a street drug is tremendous. Prices of $500 and more for 8 ounces of the product are common.

Codeine Overdose: the Prodrug

It’s really not that easy to overdose on codeine, especially when compared to other, much more powerful opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl. Codeine is perhaps one-tenth the strength of morphine when both are taken orally. However, codeine is a pro-drug; morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and other related opioids are not.

A pro-drug is one that has no effects of its own. It becomes effective only when converted into an active substance by the body. In the case of codeine, the body will convert it into morphine. It’s the morphine conversion producing the pain relief, not the codeine.

So why is that a problem? Well, codeine to morphine conversion rates vary widely from person to person. The rate is typically between 3 and 10 percent, which is a wide range. That means that one person may get 3 milligrams of morphine conversion from a 30-milligram codeine dose while another will only get one milligram.

For healthy adults and older children over 12 or so, these differences don’t usually pose an overdose threat. However, for infants and toddlers, could. This is why pediatricians typically don’t prescribe codeine for children under twelve. It’s not predictable, tends to produce itching, and could cause an unforeseen overdose in sensitive children.

Codeine for Adults

Codeine is a good choice for mild to moderate pain not well-controlled by non-narcotic drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. Its addiction potential is relatively low. However, the drug is not intended to effectively treat more intense pain, and stronger opioids may be necessary.

Codeine side effects resemble those of other narcotics:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching, typically more intense
  • Pinpoint pupils even with a normal dose
  • Clouded thinking

For More Information about Codeine

If you’d like to know more about codeine, we can help. If you’ve become addicted to this drug, there is hope and help. Codeine tends to produce relatively low levels of physical addiction when compared to stronger opioids. The time to act is now before your addiction escalates to more powerful drugs. Call us anytime at 833-846-5669. We’re here 24 hours a day to answer your questions and guide you to the best treatment solutions in your area.