Codeine is a prescription opioid painkiller that is commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain following surgery as well as sleep apnea, and it is an ingredient in some cough suppressants. Stemming from the pod of opium poppy plants, this potent drug was synthesized from morphine and has grown in popularity among both medical professionals and people who abuse opioids. It is considered the least addictive of all forms of opiate medications.
The abuse of prescription pain relievers isn’t a new trend in America. People have been abusing these drugs as long as they’ve been around. As more of them become widely available, the demand for them only seems increase.
Some prescription opioid drugs are mixed with other medications to heighten their efficacy. Sometimes codeine is a part of those combined drugs. Typically, it is part of drugs like Codrix, which contains acetaminophen.
In 2014, 1.9 million American people abused prescription pain relievers, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. No one is exempt from the addiction that can set in with long-term use of a drug like codeine. Many people who end up hooked on this drug started out taking it for real pain they suffered from.
Women may be more likely to abuse these drugs simple because they are more likely to have them prescribed. The rates at which these drugs were prescribed for men rose 265 percent between 1999 and 2013, the CDC reports; in contrast, they rose by 400 percent for women across the same time period.
People often assume that it must be adults who are abusing these drugs if the majority is doing so via a prescription, but teens can easily get their hands on them. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports most teenagers don’t even buy these drugs from dealers; they get their supply from friends and family, oftentimes grabbing them from medicine cabinets without the legitimate prescription holders’ knowledge.
What Does Codeine Abuse Look Like?
Often, people will abuse prescription painkillers more and more over time as tolerance sets in. Someone who used to be able to take one pill to get high will end up needing two, then three, and so on. This kind of dependency takes place as the body starts becoming used to the dose it’s being given. Even when someone is using it to treat pain that has long been healed, they may have recurrent pain that arises when their body starts going through withdrawal. This makes them think they still need the drug. So they use again and again. For some, the end result is fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,055 people died as a result of drug overdoses in 2014 in America, and 18,893 of them were the result of prescription opioid pain reliever abuse. To prevent that from happening, recognize the signs of addiction and intervene as soon as possible. Look for the following:
- An inability to get high from the initial dose, requiring an increase in dosage to attain the same effects
- Failure to cut back or quit despite how many attempts are made to do so
- Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped
- Lack of interest in things once enjoyed
- Even though nothing good has come of it, being unable to stop using
- Spending free time using or thinking about next use
Turning Things Around
When codeine is abused in its combination Codrix form, the risks that stem from abusing it are even greater. Acetaminophen can be quite toxic to the liver in large doses. Medscape notes just 12 grams of acetaminophen is poisonous to adults. In addition, acetaminophen is known to deplete glutathione levels, per the International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Glutathione is highly important to the immune system and brain when the body attempts to recover from an assault, such as overdose.
The primary medication methods for treating opioid addictions are methadone and buprenorphine. These drugs serve as a sort of replacement for codeine. Clients take a daily dose of methadone or buprenorphine – an amount that is aligned with how much codeine the person has been abusing. This is why it’s so important to be honest with treatment professionals about dosing amounts and schedules. The California Society for Addiction Medicine reports success rates for methadone maintenance programs reach as high as 90 percent.
Suboxone, a brand name for a buprenorphine and naloxone combination, is a widely used prescription treatment for narcotic painkiller addictions. It is available through licensed doctors that are certified to prescribe it. The plus side with Suboxone is that it can be prescribed by the month, so daily visits to a clinic or doctor aren’t needed to get the medication. The Fix reported on a study of buprenorphine and touted an 88 percent success rate for clients at the six-month mark.
Another crucial part of a successful treatment plan is therapy. Medication on its own does not constitute addiction treatment; it must be used in combination with intensive therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for treating addiction and substance abuse. CBT zeroes in on the roots of addiction. It teaches individuals with substance abuse problems to recognize the issues that lead them to use and how to change their behaviors to deal with such triggers in a healthy and rational way that doesn’t include abusing codeine.
Specialized therapy is required for individuals who suffer from mental health disorders. It isn’t unusual for someone who battles substance abuse to also deal with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues. SAMHSA states that 20.2 million adults had substance use disorders in 2014 and 7.9 million of them also suffered from mental illness.
Opting for well-rounded treatment that includes therapy, medication management (if appropriate), and professional care is the best option for individuals who abuse or are addicted to codeine. Reaching out for help is the only way to make tomorrow better. Don’t wait.