What Are Opiates?
The word opiate refers to a number of naturally occurring opiate alkaloids, such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine, which are extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. These substances serve as the chemical constituents of many semi-synthetic opioids, such as heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. The term opioid refers to all opiates, whether natural, semi-synthetic, or synthetic.
While opiates have essential uses in medicine as sedatives and painkillers, opioid drugs have very high addiction potential. Even opioid medication prescribed for legitimate medical purposes can lead to substance abuse disorders, and opioid addiction affects millions around the globe. The effects of opiates are very powerful, and since opiates stay in your system for a relatively short time, these effects also wear off fairly quickly, which can lead the user to rapidly want more of the drug.
Common opioids that are often abused include heroin, oxycontin, and hydrocodone. While methadone and fentanyl are semi-synthetic opioids that are approved for medical use, their abuse is also common. Synthetic opioids are often more potent than morphine or even heroin, making them among the riskiest drugs for developing an opioid addiction or having an overdose.
Testing Methods for the Presence of Opiates in The System
Testing for signs of use or abuse of opioids is done using samples of a person’s saliva, sweat, urine, blood, or hair. Traces of drugs remain only for hours or at most a few days in bodily secretions, whereas hair tests may detect drug use for up to 90 days. Different tests may be used for different purposes:
- Urine tests: Urine testing is the most common method of drug testing. As a person’s body processes a drug, the byproducts are filtered out by the kidneys and pass into urine for elimination. Each drug has specific byproducts, which a urine test can identify.
- Blood tests: A blood test gives an accurate picture of a person’s recent drug use, and can determine the levels of drugs in the blood at the time the blood sample is taken. It is the only method of testing that can give a result during the test – other methods usually require specialized facilities to verify the test results. Due to its invasive nature and cost, blood testing is generally only used when its degree of accuracy is required.
- Saliva tests: Saliva testing is the simplest and least invasive method of testing, but can only accurately detect drug use for a short time, usually a few hours, after a drug is taken. However, if a saliva test is positive, it will often be cause for further testing.
- Perspiration tests: These are a fairly new, and less common, type of drug test. Processing a perspiration test is lengthy and can take up to 2 weeks. These tests are generally used to monitor a person, such as somebody who is on probation.
- Hair tests: As with urine testing, hair testing detects the metabolic byproducts of processing a drug. These can be carried by blood vessels to the scalp, and be deposited on hairs. As such, hair is more of an indicator of long-term drug use and is not so reliable for accurately detecting recent drug consumption.
Common reasons for drug testing include medical screening, for example, to monitor a person’s prescribed opioid use, or during substance abuse programs. Workplace testing is also common, for example when someone is being hired, or as part of an employer’s drug prevention policy. Forensic and legal testing is carried out when police suspect drugs were involved in an incident, for example, road accidents. Many traffic offenses are drug or alcohol-related, and saliva tests are usually used for drivers. And of course, athletes regularly undergo drug testing, to ensure they are complying with the US Anti-Doping Agency rules.
How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?
Since opiates generally have a short half-life, they leave the system rapidly, although their effects may be felt for several hours. Urine tests, blood tests, and saliva tests can only detect the presence of opioids in the body for a relatively short period. For example, saliva will reveal heroin use for only 5 hours after the last dose, while blood can detect heroin for up to 6 hours. The drug remains detectable in urine for up to 7 days, while hair follicle tests can be conducted for up to 90 days after the last use of most opiates.
Factors That Affect How Long Opiates Stay in Your System
How long opioids stay in your system depends on a number of parameters, firstly, of course, which specific substance has been consumed. It also depends on the way the drug is ingested. Prescription drugs generally come in pill form – they have to pass through the digestive system and it may take about an hour before their effects are even felt. Heroin and other illegal drugs are often injected, snorted, or smoked – these methods give a much more rapid high, and the drugs also pass out of the body more quickly. Other factors that influence the duration opiates stay in your system will depend on the individual, and include:
- a person’s age, body weight, gender, and ethnicity
- the quantity of the drug taken
- the dose taken regularly, or a person’s level of habitual use
- the metabolism of the individual
- the presence of other drugs in a person’s body
- health issues that may affect how quickly their body can process the drug – for example liver or kidney damage.
While different opioids interact similarly with the body’s receptors, how long their effects remain active can vary. In the study of the effects of drugs, these durations are measured by the elimination half-life, which is the time it takes the body to metabolize and eliminate half the original dose of the substance. It usually takes about 5 half-lives for a drug to be removed from the body.
Below are some examples of how long a number of common opiates stay in your system, and the duration drug tests can still detect them.
- Codeine: 1-2 days in urine, 1 day in blood, 1-4 days in saliva.
- Fentanyl: 1 day in urine, 12 hours in blood. Saliva tests are unreliable.
- Hydrocodone: 2-4 days in urine, 1 day in blood, 12-36 hours in saliva.
- Heroine: 2-7 days in urine, 6 hours in blood, 5 hours in saliva.
- Morphine: 2-3 days in urine, 12 hours in blood, 4 days in saliva.
As mentioned above, even with prescription opiates, there can be a danger of developing a substance use disorder. The potential for drug abuse stems largely from the powerful sense of well-being they induce. As with all drug addiction, there is also always the risk of an overdose, which, with these drugs, could be fatal. In 2019, opioids were involved in over 70% of all drug overdose deaths. If a person’s drug use has taken them to the point of overdose, they would be well advised to consider some form of addiction treatment. Relapse prevention is always of the utmost importance if further risk to the individual’s life is to be avoided.
Opioid abuse can cause severe withdrawal symptoms also. The detox process – during which the body gets rid of the drug – can be intense and painful. All in all, misuse of these drugs places great strain on the central nervous system and the body in general, even more so when people also use other drugs or abuse alcohol at the same time.
If you are concerned about how long opiates stay in your system, perhaps because you might fail a drug test scheduled for whatever reason, you may want to reflect on your patterns and habits of use.
Addiction Treatment and Treatment Options
Since opioid half-lives are quite short, the body processes and eliminates these substances rapidly. The intense stimulation of the brain’s reward pathways that opioids provoke is not deleted – the user will remember it, and may want more. A single dose of an opioid can be the start of a substance abuse issue. If you have the slightest doubt about your use of opiates, even prescription opioids, you should seek professional medical advice. It may be that some form of addiction treatment could save you from a dangerous downward spiral.
Treatment centers will offer various treatment programs, and if heavy use of opiates has led a person to require a medical detox, they will need to reach out to a treatment facility. For general recovery, there are other treatment options. Outpatient treatment can be a good solution for people who cannot undertake full residential treatment. In all cases, the process revolves around helping a person give up drug use entirely while offering counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other approaches to changing a person’s thinking, habits, and behaviors. A support network, including family members where possible, is essential to help a person remain clean and sober in the long term.
Your body can flush opiates out, and be rid of them. But, drug abuse habits or opiate addiction, aren’t so easy to get out of your system. You can, however, make them a thing of the past. At NP Addiction Clinic, we are one of the leading mental health and addiction treatment centers in the country, and have years of experience in providing the care and environment for people to recover. If you or someone you know is ready to take the first step to freedom, we are just a phone call away.