A recent study shows pharmacies in Alberta dispense more of the drug codeine than anywhere else in the country.

Codeine is an addictive opiate that is found in drugs like Tylenol 3, but it is also a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicines and painkillers.


In 2010, the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested phasing out the use of codeine because some people metabolize it faster than others, resulting in potentially fatal levels of morphine in their blood. (CBC)

It's an addiction that often flies under the radar, but that may change later this year as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta plans to add codeine to the drugs it monitors through its triplicate prescription program.

The move will allow the college to track who is using codeine and how often, as well as who is prescribing it.

Former addict James White, who now works as an addiction counsellor, welcomes the change.

"I went from being a fairly successful businessman to literally pushing a shopping cart in downtown Calgary for many years," said White, who started struggling with addictions when he was a child growing up on a First Nations reserve.

Codeine became one of his go-to drugs when he was about 15.

'Right now, the average physician doesn't take codeine preparation seriously.' — James White, addictions counsellor

"You know your doctor is your drug dealer and he wouldn't know it," he said.

"There would be me and five other people and we would all go to a doctor and we would put our pills together and we would sell them," he said.

Addictions specialist Dr. Raju Hajela says many physicians don't think twice about giving a patient 200 to 300 Tylenol 3s each month.

"What people don't realize is that codeine is an opioid just like morphone or oxycodone or heroin is," he said.

White, who runs ASL Intervention, said awareness of the dangers of the drug will help.

"Right now, the average physician doesn't take codeine preparation seriously."