Opiates have been used throughout history for hundreds of years dating as far back as the Egyptians and the Ancient Chinese and their use of opium. Codeine itself dates back to the 19th century when opium was first used in various proportions along with other drugs to create various forms of opioids. Codeine is found in the latex of the opium which must be prepared from unripe pods taken from the opium poppy.
When opium is prepared through a latex method, the derived substance contains anywhere from about 1-3% codeine. The name of the drug, “codeine” dates back to the Greek word kodeia which is the term for “poppy head.”
Codeine was used mostly in rare or raw form in the early 19th century as an elixir to stop cough and easy pain. This was common use in England for many years but some studies show that the drug may even have been used earlier by chemist Lemort dating back as early as 1715.
As time progressed, various other active components of the opium poppy were derived and isolated to develop other opiate based compounds which would ultimately be used to make other pharmaceutical drugs that are safe for medical use. This progressive isolation of the opium components, including codeine, morphine and other parts of the plant used to make pharmaceutical drugs paved the way to improved safety of the drugs to be used in hospitals and medical settings worldwide.
Studies show that codeine is now the most widely used opiate in the entire world. The drug is most often combined with other substances including acetaminophen or aspirin as well as various other cough and cold suppressant medications. Codeine is so widely prescribed due mainly to the safety and the minimal risk of addiction when compared to other opioid analgesic medications that are now available in healthcare settings.
Codeine can be directly extracted from opium but today, most of the codeine that is used in medications is synthesized from morphine through a process that is known medically and in laboratories as O-methylation. Today, there are even more ways of synthesizing codeine without even using opium at all such as through the use of coal tar. Much of the codeine that is developed in the United States is synthesized in this manner through a process developed by the U.S. National Institute of Health.