Most people are familiar with the drug codeine – a narcotic medication used to treat pain and suppress cough. Codeine is available only by prescription because it can have serious side effects, and people who take it for long periods of time can become addicted to it. But is it a good idea for anyone to take codeine? That’s the question some doctors in Canada are asking.
Taking Codeine: Codeine Dangers and Side Effects
In an editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, pediatricians, who use codeine-containing medications to treat coughs in children, point out that codeine can have serious side effects – and it may not be effective enough to justify the risks – especially for children.
Codeine side effects are more pronounced in some people because of genetic variations in the way the drug is metabolized – and children may be especially at risk for taking codeine – due to their smaller size. Some people metabolize codeine more quickly than others, which can cause blood levels of this medication to be unpredictable.
Some doctors argue that codeine hasn’t undergone the same rigorous safety testing that most drugs have, despite its long history of being used to treat pain and cough. There have even been deaths in children taking codeine – which were directly attributed to the effects of the medication.
Codeine Side Effects
Taking codeine can cause the rate of breathing to go down when a person takes a large dose. It can also cause dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, disorientation, and, rarely, kidney failure. Nausea, vomiting, and constipation are all common codeine side effects. Another codeine danger is the risk of becoming addicted to the drug. When people take it too long, they develop tremors, anxiety, insomnia, and agitation when they stop it.
Codeine Dangers: Some People Metabolize It Differently
Some doctors in Canada have stopped prescribing codeine-based medications because the side effects are so unpredictable – due to individual differences in the way the drug is metabolized. A dose that would be tolerated well by one person might be dangerous to another. They emphasize that people of Arab, Ethiopian, and North African heritage are more likely to have genetic variants that alter the metabolism of codeine and should avoid taking it. They also recommend that young children and moms who are breast feeding stay away from this drug.
Codeine Side Effects: The Take-Home Message
Ask your doctor about alternatives to taking codeine for cough or pain, and don’t give it to small children. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s particularly important to avoid codeine since it could have fatal consequences for the baby. The bottom line? This is one medication it’s best to avoid.
Eurekalert.org. “It’s time to phase out codeine”