Codeine is from the group of medicines called opioids. Codeine is sold over the counter in combination with other active ingredients, like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin.

What are the risks associated with using codeine combination medicines?

There are risks associated with all pain relievers.

In Australia, combination medicines containing codeine are ‘pharmacist-only’; this means they are only available to purchase in limited quantities after talking with a pharmacist.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • Codeine can be addictive
  • If medicines containing codeine are taken in doses higher than recommended, more of the other active ingredients in the medicine are also being consumed, which can cause serious side effects.
  • The risks of these side effects far outweigh the small additional benefit that codeine has in managing most types of pain, for example compared to paracetamol on its own.

Side effects of codeine include nausea, constipation and dizziness. Taking more than the recommended dose of codeine can cause serious side effects, such as difficulty breathing.

Medicines containing a combination of codeine and aspirin may be less effective than aspirin alone and cannot be recommended.

Other pain relief medicines