NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 30, 2006

Codeine is widely considered the most effective treatment for cough, but new research on a group of 19 British patients suggests that it works no better than a placebo on a certain type of cough, say researchers.

The patients, all with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or C.O.P.D., took either a placebo or an identical looking tablet with codeine phosphate. Then, equipped with a recording device, each recorded all coughs during 20 hours.

The results appear in the April issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

  • The group averaged 8.27 seconds of coughing per hour without medicine and 6.41 seconds per hour after taking codeine; the placebo reduced coughs to 7.22 seconds per hour, a statistically insignificant difference in effectiveness compared to the codeine.
  • Jaclyn Smith, the lead author of the study, said codeine might prove effective in patients with other types of coughs; the main market for codeine is patients with coughs stemming from viruses, she said.

The researchers used a relatively high dose of 60 milligrams of codeine (the same as the high-dose form of Tylenol with codeine). Smith, who does not recommend codeine in the cough clinic she heads, acknowledged that it might be effective at higher doses.

Source: Nicholas Bakalar, "Codeine for Your Cough? Maybe Not," New York Times, May 22, 2006; based upon: Jaclyn Smith et al., "Effect of codeine on objective measurement of cough in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Vol. 117, Issue 4, April 2006.

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