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Health risks from codeine based medicines (Part 1)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to or ask our pharmacist in store

Codeine is a painkiller that is contained in many over the counter remedies such as headache remedies and cold and flu remedies. It is available in combination with other painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Painkillers containing codeine such as Solpadeine® or Nurofen Plus® are safe if taken at the recommended dose and for no longer than 3 days. Prolonged use of codeine can cause constipation, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, “chronic daily headache” and addiction. Because of the serious health implications of taking codeine, codeine is not available over the counter in pharmacies in most countries. Combination products containing codeine are only available over the counter in Ireland, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Estonia, Israel and Costa Rica. Because of health concerns, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland have strict controls on the sale of codeine based products such as Solpadeine®.

How do you know if you are addicted to codeine?

Addiction to codeine can occur by taking over the counter remedies containing codeine for longer than the recommended 3 days. If you answer yes to any of the following questions you may be addicted to codeine.

  • Do you feel you need to take the codeine products for longer time periods than instructed on the box?
  • Do you find yourself buying more and more pills?
  • Do you feel you need to take more than the recommended dose?
  • Do you start to feel unwell when you stop taking the medicine but feel better when you start taking the medicine again?


Your pharmacist or doctor can help overcome this addiction.

Is codeine really needed as a painkiller?

Paracetamol and ibuprofen have been shown to possess effective painkilling effects without the need for codeine. Paracetamol is equally effective as a painkiller as Solpadeine®.

Common over the counter remedies which contain codeine

Many commonly used over the counter painkillers contain codeine. Many of these drugs have up to 8mg of codeine which can cause dependency and side effects even if only used for a few days. Examples include the painkillers Solpadeine®, Maxilief®, Panadeine®, Nurofen Plus®, Feminax®, Migraleve® (yellow)and Veganin Plus®. The cold and flu remedy Uniflu Plus® contains 10mg of codeine however Uniflu® has no codeine. There are many alternative painkillers and cold & flu remedies available in pharmacies which do not have codeine and so do not have the associated risks.


Chronic Pain Information Event

Our Information Event on Chronic Pain is in the Greville Arms on Thursday October 12th at 7pm and speakers include John Lindsay, Chairperson of Chronic Pain Ireland, Pharmacist Eamonn Brady (MPSI) and a person living with long term pain describing their experience and outcomes. The talk is in association with Arthritis Ireland (Westmeath Branch), Chronic Pain Ireland and Whelehans Pharmacy.  

Next week In the Westmeath Examiner I will discuss the health risks of taking these medicines regularly.

For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans, log on to or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore). Find us on Facebook.

This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans

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