How long opioids stay in your system depends on several factors, including the type of opioid taken, how much was consumed, a person’s history with opioid use and their overall medical history. Opioids can be detected in the body after a few hours or a few days, even when the drug’s effects have completely worn off.
There are several types of drug tests that can be used to detect opioid use. Some can even detect opioids several months after the last dose. If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, understanding the effects of opioids and how long it takes for the drug to clear can prepare you for recovery. How long do opioids stay in your system? Find out below.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids and opiates are classes of narcotics that cause similar effects despite being made differently. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the central nervous system, helping relieve pain. They’re often prescribed by health care providers to treat moderate to severe cancer pain or chronic pain.
Opiates refer to natural opioids derived from the opium poppy plant, such as codeine and morphine. Opioid is a broader term that includes natural opiates along with semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. Semi-synthetic opioids are created in a lab using elements of natural opiates and include heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and methadone, are also created in a lab but are entirely human-made.
Many opiates are popular in the medical community for their sedative and pain-relieving effects, but all opioids can be highly addictive. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 11.5 million Americans have reported struggling with a prescription opioid addiction. This may be due to the pleasurable side effects and sense of euphoria opioids can create.
However, prescription opioids can also cause unpleasant side effects, including:
- Slowed breathing
Opioids typically have a short half-life, meaning the drug doesn’t stay in your system for long. The term half-life refers to how long it takes for the body to metabolize a drug and remove 50% of it. There are three classifications of opioid half-life: long-acting, short-acting and rapid onset. When licensed medical professionals are prescribing opioids, they refer to these classifications.
Long-acting dosage forms, including oxycodone and methadone, are used to manage severe pain for large periods of time and are commonly prescribed for chronic pain. Acute pain is more likely to be treated with short-acting dosage forms, such as codeine, hydrocodone and morphine, because the pain isn’t likely to last as long. A rapid-onset opioid may be used to treat cancer pain and tends to take effect about 10-15 minutes after administration. Fentanyl is considered rapid onset.
Factors That Influence Drug Processing
How long opioids can be detected by a drug test depends on several factors, such as:
- How much was taken
- How often the drug is used
- Metabolism rate
- Presence of other drugs in the body
- Medical history
- Hydration and nutritional status
The method of ingestion can also influence how long opioids stay in the system. Prescription opioids usually come in pill form. Oral dosage forms pass through the digestive system first and can take about an hour for the effects to begin. Other common opioids, such as heroin, are usually snorted, injected or smoked. These methods of administration cause a quicker, more intensive high and pass through the body faster.
Length in System Depends on the Type of Opioid
How long opioids stay in your system can largely be broken down based on what type of opioid was taken and which drug test is being used.
Heroin is a fast-acting opioid with a short half-life. Saliva tests can detect heroin for only 5 hours after the last dose, while blood tests can detect it for up to 6 hours after. Urine tests are the most commonly used drug tests to detect opiates and can usually trace heroin up to 7 days after the last dosage was taken. However, hair tests can detect heroin up to 90 days after the last dose, which is the longest time frame for a drug test.
Out of all opioids, codeine is one of the fastest to leave the system. Blood tests can usually only trace it for about 24 hours, while urine tests can detect it for up to 48 hours. Saliva tests have a wider range and can detect codeine for about 1 to 4 days after the last dose. Hair tests remain consistent with a 90-day detection time frame.
Because morphine takes longer to kick in, the effects also tend to last longer. However, morphine can only be detected in the blood for up to 12 hours. Urine tests are a bit more effective and can detect morphine for up to 3 days. A saliva test can trace morphine for slightly longer at 4 days, and hair testing is still the most effective at 90 days.
Blood or saliva tests can detect methadone in your system for about 2 to 3 days. Urine testing is a lot more effective and can detect traces of the drug for up to 2 weeks. Hair testing is still the most effective, with a 90-day time frame.
Fentanyl is one of the fastest-acting opioids, meaning it leaves the system relatively quickly. Traces can be found in the blood for up to 12 hours, while urine tests can only detect it for about 8 to 24 hours after the last dose. Saliva testing is more effective and can detect fentanyl for about 1 to 4 days, but it’s not as long-lasting as hair testing, which can find traces of fentanyl for up to 90 days.
Oxycodone has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours. A urine test can detect oxycodone drug use for about 1 to 4 days, but a person can test positive only a couple of hours after taking it. Oxycodone is detectable in saliva minutes after the last dose and remains there for up to 48 hours. Hair tests can detect the drug for up to 90 days.
Hydrocodone also leaves the body fairly quickly and can be detected with a saliva test for about 12 to 36 hours after the last pill was consumed. Urine testing can find traces of hydrocodone up to 4 days after. Like with other opioids, a hair test can detect the drug for up to 90 days.
Opioid Drug Testing
There are several reasons a person may be tested for opioids. Employers commonly ask for precautionary drug tests to ensure a potential employee will be a safe and reliable asset to their company. Courts may order drug tests for parole hearings or child custody disputes. Professional athletes may also be asked to undergo drug testing during set intervals or at random.
These are some of the most common drug tests used to detect opioid abuse:
- Urine testing. A urine sample is the most commonly used method for drug testing. As substances metabolize, the byproducts are generally passed through the kidneys and urine for bodily disposal. Urine tests can then identify what drug the byproducts came from.
- Saliva testing. Saliva tests are another common method due to their less invasive nature, but they carry a smaller time frame than urine tests for drug detection. If several hours have passed since the last opioid dose, a saliva test may not identify it, depending on the drug.
- Blood testing. Blood tests are often costly and invasive, which is why many employers refrain from using them. However, they’re one of the most effective at accurately detecting recent drug use. They’re the only test that can yield results without being sent to a testing facility.
- Hair testing. Similar to urine tests, hair samples use metabolic byproducts to detect drug use. As a drug is metabolized, the byproducts can flow through blood in the scalp and transport to hair follicles. Drug traces can be detected on hair for months, making it the most effective testing method. However, it’s less commonly used because most employers are looking for recent drug use.
Opioid and Opiate Addiction Treatment
Struggling with a drug abuse problem can be challenging, but many facilities treat opioid addiction along with mental or behavioral health conditions. If you’ve been using a substance long-term, unpleasant opioid withdrawal symptoms may start after the last dose and make it harder to stop. Receiving treatment from a mental health professional or other qualified health care provider can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and relapse prevention skills.
There are many treatment options available for ending a drug addiction. Medical detox is one of the first steps to purge the substance from your system and treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. After detox, many individuals seek inpatient or outpatient rehab to treat the emotional and psychological factors of a substance use or mental health disorder.
Treatment can include individual counseling, group therapy or medication-assisted treatment (MAT). During MAT, individuals take FDA-approved prescription medications such as naltrexone or methadone, which interact with opioid receptors, essentially blocking the effects of opioids to reduce cravings and drug dependence.
The type of treatment received will depend on how severe an individual’s addiction or mental health issues are. If you’ve been struggling with an opioid use disorder, help is available. Give us a call at (740) 779-6612 for professional medical advice on how to start recovery.