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Codeine Pills: Types, Strengths & How to Identify Them

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated May 20, 2023 • 5 cited sources
close up codeine pills against black background

Many manufacturers provide codeine pills. The opioid is available in generic form, so drug manufacturers can make their pills look like almost anything. And some combine codeine with other substances like acetaminophen, further complicating drug identification.

Typically, codeine pills are small, circular and light-colored. They’re sometimes embossed with a manufacturer’s identification or dosage levels. 

Drug dealers also know what codeine pills look like, and often, they make imitations for their customers. These fakes may look just like the real thing, but they can contain life-threatening ingredients. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference by sight alone. 

What Does Codeine Look Like?

Since codeine is available in generic form, multiple pills containing the drug exist. Most have a similar appearance.

Codeine pills typically have these characteristics:[1]

  • Circular shape
  • White or off-white color 
  • Manufacturer’s mark (which may read R114 or R115)
  • Dosage mark, with a line between numbers (like 1|5)

While most pills can meet these visual characteristics, other forms exist. If your pills come from a pharmacy, the pills will come in a bottle with a label on the outside marked “codeine.” 

Codeine Types & Strengths

Multiple strengths of codeine allow doctors to choose their painkillers carefully. Pills you get from a pharmacy should come in a bottle with the strength clearly marked. 

Dosage strengths include the following:[2]

  • 15 mg
  • 30 mg
  • 60 mg

Sometimes, manufacturers stamp the dosage on the back of pills with a line between the digits. But that’s the only real visual differentiator between dosage strengths. 

Codeine is also available in combination with other drugs, including acetaminophen or aspirin. Manufacturers also put codeine into some cough syrups. These products may also come in varying dosages, and they can have a variety of different appearances.[3]

Contaminated Codeine: What to Watch For

With long-term use, your body becomes accustomed to codeine. If you become physically dependent on codeine, you may need stronger doses to avoid feeling sick. If your doctor won’t approve refills or stronger pills, you may be tempted to buy the drug from street dealers. Your risk of contaminated codeine is high.

Officials say counterfeit pills are more lethal now than they ever have been. Often, dealers mix fentanyl into the pills they sell. Fentanyl is another opioid, but it’s much stronger than codeine. 

Researchers say the number of pills seized by the DEA contaminated with fentanyl has risen 430% since 2019.[4] Of those contaminated pills, two in five contain a potentially lethal dose of drugs.[5]

Drug dealers are sophisticated, capable of making their products look like almost anything. It’s impossible to tell if the pill you’re about to take truly includes codeine. 

Test kits can help you spot-test your drugs for fentanyl. But know that these products are sometimes considered drug paraphernalia, and they are illegal in some states. And they can’t detect other substances, like cocaine or heroin, which could also be inside pills that look like codeine.

The only way to remain safe from contaminated codeine is to use pills you get from a pharmacist. Even better, talk with your doctor about Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs that can help you stop taking codeine for good.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Codeine Phosphate Tablets, BP 30mg. Electronics Medicines Compendium. Accessed April 2023.
  2. Codeine Sulfate Tablet Prescribing Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. March 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Codeine Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. January 2018. Accessed April 2023.
  4. Counterfeit Pills Factsheet. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. September 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  5. Fake Prescription Pills. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. December 2022. Accessed April 2023.
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