Misuse of and dependence on codeine-containing products are on the increase globally.
What is codeine?
Codeine is a fairly strong opiate that is used to manage pain associated with, among others, severe headaches, injuries or operations.
Opiates are compounds naturally found in the opium poppy plant. The psychoactive compounds found in the opium plant include morphine and codeine.
Though codeine is less potent than morphine, it has powerful and addictive properties for the millions of people who abuse it worldwide.
When codeine is broken down by the body it turns into morphine which is used in the manufacture of heroin.
The effects of codeine include euphoria, apathy, drowsiness and relaxation.
As codeine is an opiate, users run a high risk of developing a tolerance and eventually a dependence. Many people begin using codeine to relieve a legitimate condition, but it is frequently abused as tolerance develops. Once addicted, people have to take ever increasing quantities in order to achieve the same effect.
Side effects of codeine abuse range from constipation to blindness and respiratory failure. Long term use may cause internal bleeding, kidney and liver damage, poor mobility and depression. In large enough doses, codeine may be fatal.
Codeine in South Africa
In South Africa codeine is available in pharmacies in the form of cough mixtures and painkillers, with the most commonly abused over-the-counter medications being Adco-dol, Lenadol, Betapyn and Propain, all of which can be obtained without a prescription. Stilpane, a much stronger painkiller is also often abused, but it requires a prescription from a doctor.
New legislation in South Africa now limits users to 40 tablets every 10 days, but it is possible to go to multiple pharmacies on the same day to purchase 40 tablets per pharmacy. Previously users could legally buy 100 tablets per week.
Many people are not aware of the addictive potential of many over the counter medications and their addictions often go unnoticed by loved ones. These people have unintentionally become addicted to codeine with devastating effects.
This is because there are no physical symptoms and because these drugs are viewed as safe and legal. For the most part it is also socially acceptable to use them and addicts therefore do not want to admit that they have a problem.
Seek help now
If you or someone you care about is struggling with a codeine problem, get help now.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
Substance Abuse Line 0800 12 13 14
SADAG 011 262 6396