What’s the Difference Between Hydrocodone and Codeine?

What’s the Difference Between Hydrocodone and Codeine?

Hydrocodone and codeine are similar substances that are both part of the opioid class of drugs. They are both narcotic opioid based prescription drugs used medically for moderate pain relief and cough suppressant. The main difference between the two substances is that hydrocodone is a synthesized opioid substance and codeine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the opium poppy plant. In fact, hydrocodone is typically derived from codeine and synthesized into a pain relieving prescription pill. Codeine can be extracted naturally from poppy plants but more often than not pharmaceutical companies simply use synthesized versions of the substance instead of its natural, raw form. Codeine is also typically used as more of a cough suppressant and mild pain reliever. Hydrocodone has much more potent pain relieving effects than codeine so it is more often used for moderate to severe pain relief rather than as a cough suppressant.

Origins of Hydrocodone

Michael’s House explains that hydrocodone was first created in the 1920s by a German pharmaceutical company known as Knoll. The substance was created by scientifically attaching a hydrogen atom to codeine molecules with hopes that the drug would be easier to digest and have less severe side effects. The U.S. had a growing problem during the 1920s with people suffering from addictions to household cough syrups that contained opiates. Dr. Nathan Eddy, at the time a pharmacologist at the University of Michigan, was selected by the National Research Council to study the effects, side effects and general safety of hydrocodone.

He found that hydrocodone was one of the most effective pain relievers available but also produced a strong euphoric effect that could potentially cause people to become addicted without even realizing it. The substance was labeled as a safer alternative to the opiate based cough syrups and painkillers of the day because the side effects were predictable and the intended effects were accurate. Hydrocodone became wildly popular in the U.S. despite the findings that it was potentially highly addictive. Today, the amount of people suffering from addictions to hydrocodone and other prescription painkillers is an even larger problem.

Origins of Codeine

Narconon International explains that codeine was first discovered in 1832 by a French chemist named Pierre Robiquet. In 1804 a German pharmacist discovered how to isolate and extract the most prevalent naturally occurring alkaloid, morphine, from the poppy plant. That discovery led Pierre to discover that codeine was another highly prevalent naturally occurring alkaloid in the poppy plant. Eventually it was found that codeine is one of the least addictive and safest pain killing drugs derived from the poppy plant. That label of safety is what led codeine to currently be the most widely used opioid based painkiller in America.

Unfortunately, the label of safety led many to believe that codeine could be used at will with little consequences. In reality, codeine may be safer than other opioid painkillers but it is still highly addictive and harmful to people. Pharmaceutical companies had to compete with black market producers and resources for the opium poppy plant because countries like Afghanistan controlled most of the resources. However, pharmacologists discovered a way to synthesize codeine from coal tar so they no longer needed access to the black tar from the poppy plant. This ability is part of what caused codeine to expand rapidly into the most used painkiller in America.

Drug Scheduling and Addiction Potential of Codeine and Hydrocodone

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) most codeine and hydrocodone combination pills are schedule III controlled substances. The DEA explains that any hydrocodone combination pill containing less than 15 mg per dosage unit is a schedule III controlled substance. A hydrocodone pill that contains more than 15 mg of hydrocodone in a single dosage is considered a stronger substance and moves up to a schedule II controlled substance. Because codeine is much less potent than hydrocodone the DEA considers any single dosage unit of codeine that contains less than 90 mg of codeine is a schedule III controlled substance. Anything above that dosage also moves up to the stricter schedule II controlled substance category.

The DEA considers schedule III controlled substances like codeine and hydrocodone to have a moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence. However, both drugs are still capable of leading to dependence and addiction, especially when they are significantly misused in large doses.

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