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How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

    How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

    Opioids are a class of drugs that are well known for their painkilling abilities [1]. They are often prescribed by health care professionals to reduce pain in cancer patients, those recovering from an operation or most other forms of chronic or severe pain.

    Although they are very effective for painkilling [1], they are also well known for their addictive nature, which can sometimes turn to a serious dependency if their use goes unmanaged.

    Although Opioids are used by medical professionals for serious health conditions and pain relief, they also include illegal drugs such as heroin. These illegal drugs are much more powerful than prescribed Opioids and are therefore much more dangerous.

    Opioids derive from a plant known as Opium Poppy. The poppy contains opium alkaloids which act as the building blocks for many synthetic opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and heroin [2].

    Factors that Influence How Long Opioids Stay in Your System include:

    • Your weight and body fat
    • What kind of opioids were taken
    • How much was consumed
    • Your natural metabolism speed
    • How the drug was administered
    • Whether or not you’ve taken any other drugs
    • Your age
    • Your ethnicity
    • Whether or not you have any other health conditions
    • Your gender

    Opioid Effect Timespan & Half-Life

    The number of times opioids stays in your body, and the length of time their effects remain active, can change.

    These differing time spans are measured by a half-life. A half-life is the amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize the drug and remove half of the original drug from your body.

    On average, it takes approximately 5 half-lives before the drug is removed from the body. There are three main classes of opioid half-lives. These include long-acting, short-acting and rapid onset.

    When prescribing opioids, all medical and healthcare professionals will take this into account. For example, the more chronic the pain then they will likely prescribe a long-acting opioid. This will minimise the most pain for a longer period of time.

    However, if the pain is less severe and more acute, then a healthcare professional is likely to prescribe more short-acting opioids.

    Why would someone be tested for Opioids?

    There are a number of legal and medical reasons why someone would be tested for Opioid use.

    It’s often used to monitor individuals on prescription opioids and can ensure that individuals are taking the correct amount of opioids [1]

    However, opioids testing may also be used as part of a drug screening for both employment and legal or forensic purposes. These tests and drug screenings may also be looking for the presence of marijuana and cocaine, as well as opioids [1].

    Employers might want to test employees before, during or after hiring an individual to check for the presence of any drugs.

    The emergency services, healthcare professionals or legal professionals may also want to test an individual for the presence of drugs for a range of legal and forensic purposes.

    This includes an upcoming court case, workman’s compensation cases, parole, child custody disputes and competitive sports [1].

    How Long Do Opiates Stay In Your System? [4]

    Below, we outline how long different opiate types stay in your system:

    1. Heroin

    Heroin is a very fast-acting drug that can result in very extreme health conditions and concerns. However, Heroin has a very short half-life.

    For example, Heroin can only be detected in the saliva for the first 5 hours after taking the drug whilst blood tests are able to detect the presence of the drug for approximately 6 hours after the last dose.

    However, urine tests (which are one of the most popular and common tests used to detect the presence of heroin) can detect heroin up to 7 days after the last dose.

    Even more so, heroin remains present in hair follicles for up to 90 days.

    2. Hydrocodone

    The opioid hydrocodone leaves the body even faster than heroin.

    Saliva tests can detect the presence of hydrocodone for the first 12-36 hours. Urine tests can detect hydrocodone for up to 2- 4 days, and similarly to heroin, it can be detected in hair follicles for up to 90 days.

    3. Morphine

    Unlike heroin and hydrocodone, morphine takes longer to work and the effects do tend to last longer than other opioids.

    However, blood tests can detect morphine for up to 12 hours after first taking the drug and urine tests can detect the presence of Morphine for up to 3 days.

    Saliva tests are, however, more effective in detecting Morphine and are able to detect traces for up to 4 days. Once again, morphine stays in the hair for up to 90 days.

    4. Codeine

    Codeine leaves the body the quickest. It can be found in the body for up to 24 hours, in urine for 24 – 48 hours and in saliva for up to just 1 – 4 days.

    As with most other drugs and opioids, codeine can be found in the hair for up to 90 days.

    5. Oxycodone (Oxycontin)

    A person will test positive for the presence of Oxycodone as quickly as 1-3 hours after taking it initially, and it can be detected in the urine within a day, and up to 4 days.

    A saliva test will detect the presence of the drug within minutes after taking it, and a saliva test can detect the presence of Oxycodone for up to 48 hours after initially taking the drug.

    The drug can be detected in hair follicles for up to 90 days after consuming the drug.

    It’s important to understand that these averages may differ depending on how long the individual has been taking the drug.

    Detecting Opioid Use

    Drug testing is commonly used by healthcare professionals, within certain workplaces and in workman’s compensation cases, parole, child custody disputes and competitive sports.

    Some tests can pick up the presence of a drug within just hours after first consuming it, and some can detect its presence long after.

    1. Urine Testing

    This is probably the most commonly used test for drugs. This is because most healthcare professionals know that as the body metabolizes the drug, its byproducts are passed through the kidneys and then urine for disposal.

    Therefore the drug is present within the urine very quickly after first taking it.

    2. Saliva Testing

    Unlike the urine test, administering a saliva test is much less invasive and lots of people feel more comfortable both taking and having a saliva test taken.

    However, unless the drug is consumed within the first several hours of testing, the test may not identify its presence.

    3. Hair Follicle Testing

    Similarly to the urine test, the hair follicle test also relies on the metabolizing process to produce byproducts after consuming drugs. As you consume drugs, the byproducts pass through your blood into your scalp and then onto growing hair follicles.

    Due to this, hair can detect a long log of most substances a person consumes, including marijuana and most opioids.

    However, most workplaces or institutions that are testing are looking for more regular and recent drug abuse. Therefore this testing method is far less common.

    4. Blood Testing

    Blood testing is used to detect many substances and possible health concerns of an individual.

    Blood tests can also identify the levels of the drug in the blood, as well as just the presence of the drug in the body.

    This test guarantees a result during the test, whilst other tests rely on specialised test facilities to check the results. This, therefore makes this test expensive and invasive, as some people are uncomfortable with having their blood taken.

    What to Do if You’re Addicted to Opioids

    If you’re addicted to opioids or any other drugs, then it’s important to seek help from family, friends and medical and healthcare professionals.

    If you have been asked to take a drug test, then it’s best, to be honest, and open about your drug-taking before taking the test.



    [2] LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012–. Opioids. 2020 Nov 24. PMID: 31643200.




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