Codeine: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:22 am

Codeine is most often used in the treatment of mild to moderate pain that does not respond fully to OTC analgesics. A number of different cough-suppressant (antitussives) medications contain low concentrations of codeine. The effects of codeine on the nerves and muscles of the intestines make it an effective treatment for diarrhea. However, since equally effective OTC medications are available, codeine is now rarely used for this purpose.

For some time, the medical community has debated whether codeine is truly effective in relieving pain and suppressing coughs. Several studies have shown that codeine alone is not significantly more effective than maximum doses of nonprescription analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Most research has shown, however, that codeine added to nonprescription analgesics provides a small but significant benefit. Still, some studies have shown that certain cough medicines are equally effective with or without codeine. More research is needed to resolve this issue.

Even if the physical benefits from codeine were truly minimal, the classification of codeine as a narcotic (implication: “powerful”) analgesic might provide a significant placebo effect in some individuals.

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