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‘Codeine is my companion’: misuse and dependence on codeine containing medicines in Ireland

  • M. C. Van Hout (a1), A. Horan (a2), K. Santlal (a3), E. Rich (a4) and M. Bergin (a1)...



Global concern around over the counter availability of codeine containing products and risk of misuse, dependence and related harms are evident. A phenomenological study of lived experiences of codeine misuse and dependence was undertaken in Ireland, following the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland’s 2010 guidelines for restricted supply of non-prescription codeine containing products.


In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of adult codeine misusers and dependents (n=21), both actively using, in treatment and in recovery. The narratives were analysed using the Empirical Phenomenological Psychological five-step method (Karlsson, 1995). A total of 10 themes with 82 categories were identified. Two concepts at a higher level of abstraction above the theme-level emerged during the final stage of analysis. The concepts identified were ‘emotional pain and user self-legitimization of use’ and ‘entrapment into habit-forming and invisible dependent use’. These concepts were reported in different ways by a majority of participants.


Findings are presented under the following themes: (1) profile and product preferences; (2) awareness of habit forming use and harm; (3) negotiating pharmacy sales; (4) alternative sourcing routes; (5) the codeine feeling; (6) the daily routine; (7) acute and chronic side effects; (8) social isolation; (9) withdrawal and dependence and (10) help-seeking and treatment experiences.


There is a public health and regulatory imperative to develop proactive responses tackling public availability of codeine containing medicines, risk minimisation in consumer self-treatment for pain, enhanced patient awareness of potential for habit forming use and its consequences and continued health professional pharmacovigilence.

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Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: M. Claire Van Hout, 107 School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland. (Email:


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‘Codeine is my companion’: misuse and dependence on codeine containing medicines in Ireland

  • M. C. Van Hout (a1), A. Horan (a2), K. Santlal (a3), E. Rich (a4) and M. Bergin (a1)...


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