If you are caught illegally possessing codeine, you could face serious legal consequences including arrest, jail time, a life-long criminal record and financial penalties.

Possession of codeine without a prescription or over an individual’s prescribed amount are unlawful offenses which can result in your arrest, suspended driver’s license, criminal prosecution, mandatory drug treatment programs, or incarceration among other legal and financial repercussions.

Codeine and the DEA

Codeine is an opiate-derived prescription pain killer with extremely addictive qualities. As a result of the drug’s risks, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies prescription level codeine as a schedule II drug with a high potential for misuse or psychological and physical dependence. Codeine, when combined with less-potent, over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol, may also be classified as a Schedule III, IV or V narcotic with lower risks of misuse and varying degrees of physical and psychological dependence. Criminal penalties for possession of Schedule II, III, IV, and V controlled substances without a prescription, or in excess of prescribed amounts, vary by state and are largely dependent upon the amount of the substance in your possession — but non-prescription possession is universally illegal throughout the United States.

Crimes Associated with Codeine

Codeine is available legally in a variety of forms (and brands) via prescription and (in lesser concentrations) over-the-counter medications such as Robitussin, Maxiflu CD, Maxiflu CDX and Tylenol with Codeine. However, because of its status as a controlled substance, possession, use and distribution of codeine absent a prescription from a physician, or in excess of the prescribed allotment, are serious crimes. For those without a prescription, or struggling with a substance use disorder, codeine (in its highest concentrated form) is commonly purchased on the black market.

State-level criminal penalties for codeine-related offenses can range from misdemeanor possession (for small amounts) to serious felony charges (for larger amounts, distribution, and trafficking). These penalties are largely determined by the quantity of the substance within your possession, the way the substance came into your possession and the intent of possession. Sentences for misdemeanor offenses often include probation, fines and short periods of incarceration. Whereas felony charges can result in upwards of 10 years in prison depending upon the severity of the offense.

Some offenses, such as trafficking, are also subject to federal penalties. Trafficking violations of the Federal Controlled Substances Act for Schedule II substances carries a financial penalty of between $1 million and $5 million, and a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Repeat offenses can lead to additional financial penalties of between $2 and $10 million, alongside 30 additional years in federal prison.

Caught Without My Codeine Prescription

As a result of codeine’s status as a controlled substance, the only forms of possession that are legal at the state and federal level are via a prescription, in an amount equal to or less than the prescribed quantity, or in over-the-counter forms (depending upon age in certain states). If you are caught in possession of codeine without a prescription, are in possession of more than your prescribed quantity, or are attempting to sell your codeine prescription to another individual, you will likely face state misdemeanor or federal felony charges. These charges include severe legal and financial consequences.

Codeine Prescription in a Bottle

If you are prescribed codeine by a physician, you will receive a bottle with a medication label detailing your identification information (name and home address), the prescribing physician’s name, the pharmacy information (name, address and telephone number), the prescription name, dosage instructions, the total amount of the prescription contained within the bottle, the prescribing date and expiration.

So long as your prescription is contained within the bottle, the amount contained within the bottle matches that (or is less than that) of the amount listed on the medical label and the prescription has not expired, you should be well within state and federal statutes and will not have any legal trouble.

Prescription Outside the Bottle

Illegal possession of one’s scheduled prescription drugs outside their original container is, in many states, a criminal offense committed often and unknowingly by many people.

Consider Texas and Maine, where a person is not authorized to possess his or her prescription drug unless the drug remains in the original container. The only instance in which it is legal to possess a prescription outside of its original packaging is when the prescription is consumed. Under such laws, scheduled prescription drugs cannot be stored in pockets, purses or any other storage device other than its original container.

In these states, getting caught in possession of a controlled substance outside of its bottle, even if that prescription was lawfully prescribed to you by a physician, is a criminal offense with serious legal consequence. In Texas, Illegal Possession Penalty Group 1 (as would be the case if you were caught with a codeine prescription outside its original container) is an offense punishable by a minimum of 180 days in jail and a fine of $10,000 or more.

Laws governing the use and preservation of prescription drugs vary from state to state and there are exceptions to these rules. It is important to consult with your physician or a knowledgeable attorney regarding your state’s specific laws and regulations.

Caught With Someone Else’s Codeine Prescription

Throughout the United States, possession of a controlled substance is illegal without a prescription. Possession of codeine that’s someone else’s prescription is a serious criminal offense with very severe legal consequences.

In Colorado, the unlawful possession of codeine is either a Class 4 or Class 6 felony, depending upon the amount in possession. In Colorado, possession of codeine without a prescription (whether it’s somebody else’s prescription or otherwise) includes penalties of between 1 and 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

While codeine possession without a prescription is universally illegal, it is still important to check with a legal professional or your physician regarding your state’s specific laws governing the use and possession of scheduled substances.

Getting Caught High on Codeine

Criminal offenses related to codeine use are not limited to possession, trafficking, and distribution. There exists a series of criminal offenses related to the illegal use of codeine without a prescription or medical purpose. In Colorado, the illegal use of a controlled substance, like codeine, is a level 2 misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 12 months in prison and a $750 fine. In California, being caught under the influence of codeine is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Additionally, for individuals on probation or drug conditions, codeine use detected in random drug test programs can result in serious criminal penalties far above the original penalty.

Codeine is detectable in a variety of drug tests, including urine and hair follicle tests. Because of its relatively short half-life, codeine generally leaves a user’s system within 16 hours of use. However, despite its short half-life, codeine remains detectable in drug tests due to its metabolites. Codeine is detectable in urine tests for up to 48 hours, in blood tests for up to 24 hours, in hair tests for up to 90 days and in saliva tests for up to four days following use.

In the event of a failed drug test while on probation, an individual may face excessive legal and financial penalties.

Key Points: Getting Caught with Codeine

Illegal possession of codeine is a serious criminal and personal health matter. Keep the following points in mind regarding getting caught with codeine:

  • The DEA classifies Codeine as a schedule II drug, meaning it has a high misuse potential
  • Being caught selling codeine, using it outside of its prescribed intention or storing the drug outside its original container can result in legal penalties
  • State laws vary, but even the owner of the codeine having the drug outside of its original bottle, as provided by the pharmacist, is illegal
  • Drug tests can detect codeine for certain periods depending on the test type — up to 90 days in the case of hair tests
  • To avoid accidentally breaking any laws, always ensure that your prescription remains in your possession, in its original container

If yourself or a loved one struggle with codeine addiction, The Recovery Village provides professional treatment and care to help address the addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact a representativeand begin your healthier future today.

a man with a beard wearing glasses and a hoodie.
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

US Department of Justice. “Controlled Substance Schedules.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Schneider Freiberger Law  “Codeine Possession and Distribution Charges.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Yeh, Brian. “Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Term[…]and Related Laws.” Congressional Research Service, January 20, 2015. Accessed April 8, 2019.

Rx Outreach “Understanding Prescription Medication Labels.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

The Goolsby Law Firm. “Can I Be Arrested for Possession Prescription Drugs?” September 19, 2016. Accessed April 8, 2019.

Ed Folsom Law “Illegal Possession of your own Prescription Drugs.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Colorado Legal Defense Group.  “Colorado Laws re Use, Possession or Sale of Codeine.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

US Drug Test Centers.  “Probation Drug Testing.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.