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Codeine Overdose: Symptoms and Addiction Treatment

Drug overdose from natural and semi-synthetic opioids, including codeine, claimed more than 10,000 lives in May 2023. Throughout 2022, between 12,000-13,000 people died every month overdosing on natural and semi-synthetic opioids.1

Being able to identify the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose could help save a life. This page will explore:

  • Codeine misuse.
  • Symptoms of a codeine overdose.
  • How to get help for an opioid use disorder.

What is Codeine?

Codeine is an opioid commonly prescribed for treating mild to severe pain. It’s also used to reduce coughing and for the treatment of tension headaches, usually in combination with other medications.2

Some forms of codeine-containing cough and cold syrup are available without a prescription in certain states. Due to its potential for misuse, over-the-counter codeine cough and cold syrups typically requires pharmacist authorization or other specific requirements.3

Can You Overdose on Codeine?

Yes, a person can overdose when using codeine and codeine combination products.4 Any codeine use, even when used as directed or prescribed, increases a person’s risk of opioid overdose.5

Additional risk factors associated with overdose or overdose symptoms include:6,7

  • Misuse.
  • Higher doses.
  • Returning to taking the medication after having stopped usage.
  • Using it (or a combination product) with other substances or other opioids.

An opioid overdose occurs when someone takes too many opioids or a combination of opioids and other substances that overwhelm the body. An opioid overdose can lead to significant respiratory depression, resulting in slow and ineffective breathing which can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or death.7

As stated above, the risk of effects like overdose are increased when a person combines codeine with other drugs.8 It can be especially dangerous to combine opioids like codeine with benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants, including alcohol. Benzodiazepines, alcohol, and other central nervous system depressants can exacerbate the respiratory depressing effects of codeine and further slow and even stop breathing, increasing the risk of overdose, including fatal overdose.4,8

Symptoms of Codeine Overdose

What happens when you overdose on codeine? Codeine overdose may be life-threatening, and it can be helpful to know codeine overdose symptoms.6

Identified as the opioid overdose triad, three common symptoms of opioid overdose include pinpoint pupils, a reduced level of consciousness, and respiratory depression.7

Additional signs and symptoms of codeine overdose, and opioid overdose, may include:6

  • Pale or clammy skin.
  • Blueish or purple coloration to lips or nails.
  • Vomiting or making gurgling sounds.
  • Limp body.
  • Confused state or altered mental status.
  • Weak or absent pulse.

Codeine is often combined with other medicines, such as acetaminophen and promethazine. Should a codeine overdose result from a combination product, the harmful effects of high dosages of these other substances may also need medical treatment.

Codeine Overdose Treatment

If a person overdoses on codeine or another opioid, you may be able to save their life. The most important thing you can do is to call 911 immediately and administer naloxone if it is on-hand or available to you.6

Naloxone can reverse the symptoms of opioid overdose and may restore a person’s breathing. The effects of naloxone may only be temporary; medical treatment is still paramount.

The 9-1-1 operator may also have you assess the person’s pulse and breathing, and you may receive instructions to perform CPR. Follow the dispatcher’s directions while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive. They will provide additional necessary medical support to treat the overdose, taking into account any other drugs they may have taken.

Treating Opioid Use Disorder

Addiction treatment is available throughout the United States in a range of facilities. For some, treatment starts with detox.

Medical detox from opioids includes care and monitoring of patients by trained medical staff with the goal of the patient reaching medical stability and abstinence from substances.9 Opioid agonist medications such as buprenorphine may be used to stabilize someone in opioid withdrawal, helping to alleviate cravings and other discomfort.9

After the completion of a medical detox program, patients may continue with various forms of rehabilitative care and recovery work. Treatment settings and various levels of care for opioid use disorder (OUD) addiction treatment include:10

  • Inpatient. Inpatient treatment provides care 24 hours a day for those with opioid use disorders. Inpatient programs can be connected to a hospital or take place in a substance use treatment facility.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP). A PHP is a hospital-based form of outpatient rehab offering services comparable to a residential inpatient program, while not requiring patients to live at the treatment facility.
  • Outpatient. In outpatient programs, people live at home and receive services such as individual therapy, group therapy, and substance misuse education at a treatment facility.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP). IOPs are similar to outpatient programs in the services provided but take place more times throughout the week.
  • Aftercare. Aftercare or continued care is involvement in addiction recovery efforts (e.g., mutual aid groups, recovery housing, recovery coaches) past an initial treatment program, which can support you to maintain abstinence.8

Finding Codeine Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one need opioid use disorder treatment, help is available. There are treatment facilities located across the United States, and it is likely there is one near you. The directory tool can help you find codeine addiction treatment that meets your individual needs.

To get started, just type your location or a keyword for your treatment needs into the search bar. Then, it will take you to a list of nearby rehabs that meet your requirements. Part of finding the right facility can include finding out about using insurance for rehab and making sure your insurance will cover treatment. To make it easier, you can also verify your insurance here or by filling out the form below.

Check Insurance Benefits for Codeine Addiction Rehab

The insurance verification tool can help you determine what your benefits are and the kinds of treatment that are covered. Using insurance for rehab can be easy. Codeine overdose does not need to be a risk in your life. Begin your search today and find the place where you can begin recovery.

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