How to Prevent and Treat a Codeine Overdose
Codeine is an opiate analgesic (pain killers). It is frequently prescribed for moderate pain in medications which frequently, but not always, contain acetaminophen. Overdoses are potential fatal, killing over 400 people a year and hospitalizing over 40,000.
The amount prescribed is based on age, weight, pain, and other applicable health factors such as breathing disorders (i.e. severe asthma or COPD) which may additionally compromise the respiratory system.
Taking more than the recommended dosage may result in an overdose. Additionally, taking this medication for the high or psychoactive effects is considered abuse and also may result in overdose.
If you are caring for someone whom you believe has overdosed, call 911 or poison control immediately. Be prepared to give as much information to 911 responders or EMTs as possible, including which medication was consumed, how much was taken, and if the medication was actually prescribed to the patient.
The following medications contain both acetaminophen and codeine.
- Combiflex ES
- EZ III
- Margesic #3
- Tylenol® with Codeine (#2, #3, #4)
Additionally, nursing mothers should take precautions when taking codeine and breastfeeding. The baby may suffer an overdose. If a baby exposed to codeine shows symptoms of being severely drowsy, having difficulty breathing or trouble breastfeeding, call 911.
Symptoms of Codeine Overdose
- Shallow respiration
- Decreased respiration (rate)
- Extreme drowsiness
- Cold and/or pale skin
- Nausea and vomiting
If hospitalized, treatment for codeine overdose may include:
- Charcoal ingestion
- Artificial respiration
- IV fluids
- Stomach pumping
- Naloxone (used to counteract effects of opiates)
- N-acetyl cysteine (used to treat acetaminophen overdose)
Prognosis and Prevention
If treated soon, patients recovering from a codeine overdose can make a full recovery. If the overdose includes acetaminophen, liver damage may occur, including long-term effects.
Preventing a codeine overdose can be accomplished by following these guidelines:
- Do not take someone else’s prescription medicine
- Take the amount prescribed/recommended by the doctor and pharmacology
- Do not allow children access to this medication.
- If pregnant or breastfeeding, seek a doctor’s advice.
Finally, codeine has the potential to be habit forming. Even in a non-overdose, taking more than directed or medicine prescribed for someone else may increase the chance of addiction.
If you or someone else you know is an addict, please seek help immediately.