Why isn’t codeine a prescription drug?

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f there’s one thing that every authority figure I’ve known since my infancy has been quick to remind me, it’s that doing drugs would ruin my health, destroy my prospects, and give me bad teeth. They may have been worried about crystal meth and crack cocaine, but, surprise: not one of them thought to be suspicious of the innocent little bottles of Tylenol-1 in their nightstands.

Now, the drug codeine isn’t quite as scandalous or dangerous as the drugs your parents warned you about. However, it does have the extra-spicy distinction of being one of the most addictive painkillers available without a doctor’s note — except in Manitoba, which is set to debut on February 1 as the first Canadian province to necessitate a prescription for it.

Robaxacet-8, Tylenol-1, Calmylin, you name it: if it’s got codeine in it, you’ll need your doctor’s permission to take it, and the pharmacist will have to confirm that you’re not already taking another medicine before they can give it to you. It might seem like these are unnecessary hoops to jump through for your pain relief, but many members of the medical community both praise the change and advocate for other jurisdictions to follow the leader on this one. Considering just what codeine is and what it does, I can’t help but agree.

Aside from its addictive nature, codeine just might decide to give you some fun get-well presents after the first few dates, such as slowed heart rates, liver failure, and hallucinations. Yeah, no thanks. While potentially harmful side-effects in medicine are hardly a rarity, there’s a difference between a necessary risk and masochism.

See, not only is codeine terrible for you, it’s not even a good drug. Despite its use as a painkiller, Oxford researchers recently found that people generally got more pain relief out of a sugar pill than out of 60 milligrams of codeine. This is about equivalent to what you would find in seven tablets of Tylenol-1.

In other words, codeine on its own is only really stellar at one thing: getting people hooked. And generally, the only people who would want codeine who can’t get a prescription for codeine are people who don’t actually need codeine.

A number of doctors agree that relegating codeine to the ‘prescription-only club’ is in the public interest. “The idea you can get a drug without a prescription that turns into morphine is foolishness,” says toxicologist and drug safety researcher David Juurlink.

“Every good drug has its risks as well. But a not-so-good drug with risks? It’s pretty hard to justify,” asserts Ross Tsuyuki, a professor of medicine at University of Alberta.

These new restrictions might seem like a pointless inconvenience at first glance, but ultimately nobody would really be hurt by them — on the other hand, a great number of people would be protected by them. Recreational codeine is a poison that we cannot hand out like candy, and every person rushed into an emergency room because they popped too many painkillers is a person that might have been saved with proper regulations on what we sell in pharmacies.

At the end of the day, the medical field is supposed to be about helping people; we need to stop promoting substances that do quite the opposite.