Opioids are a class of drugs that include both the illicit drug heroin and prescription painkillers. How long an opiate stays in your system depends on the type of opiate you take, how you take it, how often and how long you have been taking it for, and several individual factors, including your metabolism.
The term opiates was previously used to refer to natural opioids, such as heroin, codeine, and morphine, and opioids was used to refer to synthetic (man-made) opioids. Today, the term opioids is used to include both natural and synthetic opioid drugs.
Opioid Effect Timespan: What Does That Mean?
Opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain, serving to block pain sensations, elevate mood, and suppress functions of the central nervous system.
While they all work similarly, opioids can all stay in your system different amounts of time based on their elimination half-life. This is the amount of time it takes for your body to break down half of the original dose of the drug and metabolize it. Half-lives of opioid drugs can range from less than one hour all the way up to 36 hours.
Opioid drugs are categorized into rapid onset, short-acting, and long-acting as follows:
How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your Body?
Opioid drugs can stay in certain parts of your body and be detectable on a drug test longer than they are active in your system. Typical drug tests will be able to detect heroin, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. To look for other opioids, a specialized drug test will often need to be ordered.
The following types of drug tests can be used to detect opioids:
Saliva drug tests are noninvasive; however, they also often have a much shorter window for detecting opioids. Generally, you will need to have consumed the drugs within a few hours for the test to pick them up.
For this test, a swab of the inside of your mouth is taken.
A urine drug test is the most commonly used form of drug testing in the workplace. This type of testing is actually testing for the byproduct of specific drugs.
With a urine test, you will urinate into a sterile collection receptacle.
Hair testing is less common; however, your hair can hold metabolites of drugs for months after using them. The metabolite of the drug will process through the blood in your scalp and collect on your hair as it grows.
Your hair can provide an accurate log of anything put into or coming into contact with your body for many months. For example, fentanyl quickly processes out of the body, but it can remain detectable in your hair for up to three months after use. Since most drug testing is looking for active drug use, this type is used infrequently.
A blood test can most accurately determine active drug use; however, the testing involves specialized equipment, personnel, and testing facilities. Therefore, this kind of testing is expensive and not regularly used.
Blood drug tests are one of the most invasive testing methods, although they are the most reliable and difficult to interfere with.
This type of drug testing is rarely used, as it can take up to two weeks for drugs to appear in your sweat. It is noninvasive; however, accuracy can be unreliable.
Factors That Influence How Long Opioids Stay in Your System
Along with the type of opiate and its elimination half-life, there are other contributing factors to how long the drug will remain in your system. This can include the following:
- How you took the drug, such as whether it was ingested, snorted, or injected
- How much of the drug you took
- Whether or not you took the drug with other substances or medications
- How long you have been taking the drug and how regularly (drug tolerance)
- Body weight
- Biological factors, including metabolism speed
- History of opioid use disorder
- Potential underlying medical conditions