Is Codeine a Narcotic?

May 4, 2017

Did you know that codeine is dangerous for your child? After reviewing adverse event reports for the past 50 years, the FDA concluded that prescription codeine and tramadol should not be given to children and adolescents. Upon their review, the agency found 64 cases of severe breathing problems, including 24 deaths, as a result of codeine in children and adolescents.

The FDA now warns that codeine should not be used for pain or cough in children under 12 years old. The agency also recommends that adolescents aged 12–18 years old who are obese or who have breathing problems should not use codeine. Also, mothers taking codeine should not breastfeed.

What Is Codeine? Is Codeine a Narcotic?

You may be wondering, is codeine a narcotic? As an opioid pain reliever, codeine is considered a narcotic. It’s used to treat mild to moderately severe pain and is used as a cough suppressant.  In fact, according to World Health Organization, it’s the most widely used narcotic in the world. Codeine was originally discovered by French chemist Pierre Robiquet in 1832. “Codeine” takes its name from the head of the poppy plant.

In the past, opium was derived from poppies, using tar from opiate poppies to synthesize codeine, as well as morphine and other opioids. The FDA approved codeine in 1950. As it became increasingly difficult to secure this product due to political unrest in Afghanistan, where the bulk of the narcotic poppy industry is located, scientists figured out how to synthesize codeine from coal tar in 1973.

Although considered the “least addictive and safest” of all the prescribed opiate, make no mistake — codeine is still addictive and easily abused. In fact, addiction to codeine results in withdrawal symptoms like other opiates and usually requires professional rehabilitation.

Opioids bind with the pain receptors in the brain — this is how they relieve pain symptoms — and can create a sensation of euphoria, or a high. A person who abuses codeine to reach this high may move on to stronger, and even more dangerous, opioids, including hydrocodone, oxycodone or street drugs like heroin. It’s also possible that a person may abuse codeine and not know it as it is found in many prescription-only formulas, and some OTC medicines, under a variety of names, in tablet and liquid form (such as a codeine cough syrup, like codeine antitussive) including:

Fioricet with codeine, Phrenillin with caffeine and codeine


Colrex compound

Tylenol with codeine #3, and others

Phenflu CD

Maxiflu CD

Florinal with codeine

Soma compound with codeine (for muscle pain)

Empirin with codeine

Nalex AC

M-End PE, Poly-Tussin AC

Mar-cof BP (also contains pseudoephedrine)





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