Codeine is an opiate drug that can be lethal when taken in very high doses, or when mixed with other drugs, including other opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.
Codeine is commonly prescribed to treat pain. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the lethal dose of codeine is 0.5 to 1 gram, or 500 to 1000 milligrams (mg).
Learn more about the lethal doses of commonly abused drugs.
Determining The Lethal Dose Of Codeine
Codeine can begin to have toxic effects after 240 mg in the average person. Toxicity, also known as overdose or drug poisoning, can be lethal or non-lethal and may have lasting effects on health.
Codeine is prescribed in the following doses in tablet form:
- 15 mg
- 30 mg
- 60 mg
Codeine is listed as an ingredient in several medications, including Tylenol with codeine, and prescription cough syrups.
How Common Are Overdose Deaths Involving Codeine?
Opioid drugs are involved in thousands of fatal drug overdoses each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 24% of opioid drug overdoses in 2020 involved prescription opioids like codeine.
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Risk Factors For Fatal Codeine Overdose
Certain biological and personal factors can increase the risk of experiencing life-threatening codeine overdose.
You may be at increased risk for fatal overdose if you:
- are a child
- are an older adult
- take codeine in ways other than prescribed
- take very high doses of codeine
- drink alcohol while taking codeine
- take codeine with other drugs
- have impaired liver or kidney function
- have recently completed opioid detox
The best way to prevent codeine overdose is to take codeine exactly as directed by a doctor. Use of codeine without a prescription may be a sign of drug abuse or addiction.
Recognizing A Codeine Overdose
Codeine overdose can be fatal if an excessive amount of codeine has been ingested and symptoms are left untreated. Knowing the signs of an overdose can be life-saving.
Signs and symptoms of codeine overdose include:
- very slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
- being awake but not able to talk
- bluish or ashen skin
- bluish-purple fingernails and lips
- choking or gurgling sounds
- weak pulse
- limp body
Codeine overdose can be reversed with the quick administration of naloxone (Narcan), a drug FDA-approved to treat opioid overdose.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Prescription Opioid Overdose Death Maps
- MedScape—(codeine) dosing, indications, interactions, adverse side effects and more
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—Fiorinal with Codeine C-III
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus—Codeine overdose