How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

February 21, 2023

Table of Contents

How long an opioid stays in your system depends on the type you take, how you take it, how often and how long you have been taking it, and several individual factors, including your metabolism.

Understanding how long opioids stay in your system is critical when you start your opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment with Suboxone, so you can make sure the opioids you have been taking prior are fully out of your system prior to taking Suboxone to prevent any opioid withdrawal. 

Keep reading to find out how long opioids stay in your system and how you can tell when opioids are out of the body. 

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, and also prescription painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain sensations, elevating mood, and suppressing central nervous system functions.

The term opiates refers to natural opioids, such as heroin, codeine, and morphine, and opioids was used to refer to synthetic (man-made) opioids. Today, the term opioids often includes both natural and synthetic opioid drugs. Bear in mind that just because a drug is an opiate or a naturally occurring opioid, does not mean it is weaker or stronger than an opioid (synthetic) medication. Opiates are not “safer” than opioids. For example, heroin is an opiate but can be much more dangerous than synthetic opioids like oxycodone

Key Facts About Opioids Staying in Your System 

Opioids are structurally similar, but how quickly they work and how long they persist varies dramatically. 

Many people are concerned with how long opioids last because they’re trying to pass drug tests at work. There’s no reliable way to ensure you won’t fail a drug test unless you abstain from substances for a week or longer. 

Most drug testing companies use urine to check for drugs, but some test saliva or blood or even hair.

Factors That Influence How Long Opioids Stay in Your System

factors that influence how long opiates stay in your system

While they all work similarly, opioids can stay in your system for different amounts of time based on their half-life.[1] 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. The half-life of opioid medications can range from less than 1 hour to 36 hours.[2]

Along with the type of opioid and its elimination half-life, there are other contributing factors to how long the drug will remain in your system, including these:

  • How you took the drug (whether it was swallowed, snorted, or injected)  
  • How much of the drug you took
  • Whether or not you took the drug with other substances or medications
  • How long and how regularly (drug tolerance) you have been taking the drug 
  • Body weight
  • Biological factors, including metabolism speed
  • History of opioid use disorder
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Other underlying medical conditions

3 Categories of Opioid Drugs 

Chemists place opioids in groups based on how quickly they work and how long they last. 

1. Rapid Onset 

As the name implies, rapid-onset drugs work very quickly. Prescription rapid-onset drugs like fentanyl start working very quickly but also last only a short period of time in the body [3] Rapid-onset drugs like fentanyl and heroin can also cause a burst of euphoria, making them very addictive and dangerous substances. Intravenous formulations of opioids tend to be very rapid onset because they enter the bloodstream immediately. 

2. Short Acting

A short-acting opioid usually lasts in your body for two to eight hours. These medications are typically used for acute or intermittent pain.[4] People recovering from surgery often use these medications. Good examples are opioid prescription pills such as:

  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone

3. Long Acting 

A long-acting medication stays in your body for long periods. Some can work for up to 72 hours, making them good choices for people with severe and persistent pain.[4]

Examples of long-acting opioids methadone, which stays in the body for anywhere from 24-72 hours.

Used For Examples
Rapid Onset Breakthrough pain
Used illicitly
Immediate-release versions of:
IV forms of opioids (fentanyl, dilaudid, etc)
Short Acting Transient pain Immediate-release versions of:
Morphine
Hydromorphone
Oxymorphone
Codeine
Fentanyl
Hydrocodone
Oxycodone
Long Acting Persistent pain Methadone

How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your Body?

Opioids can stay in your body for much longer than you might expect. In fact, some drugs can stay in your body at low (but detectable) levels, even when you no longer feel their effects. 

These are common periods at which different drugs are still detectable in your body:

Fentanyl in Your Body 

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl is structurally similar to morphine, but it's 50 to 100 times more potent.[5] 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1 day
  • Blood: 12 hours
  • Saliva: Results are unreliable 

Oxycodone in Your Body 

The semi-synthetic opioid drug oxycodone is prescribed for pain as Tylox, Percodan, and OxyContin.[6] These medications are highly addictive, as the pills can be crushed and snorted or injected. 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1–4 days
  • Blood: 1 day
  • Saliva: Up to 2 days

Codeine in Your Body 

Codeine is an opioid pain reliever doctors can use to treat mild or moderate pain.[7] The medication can also help to reduce coughing. 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1–4 days
  • Blood: 1 day
  • Saliva: 1–4 days

Morphine in Your Body 

The non-synthetic narcotic morphine has a very high potential for misuse. It's derived from opium, and it's used to treat pain.[8] 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1-4 days
  • Blood: 12 hours
  • Saliva: 4 days

Hydrocodone in Your Body 

Since 2009, experts have been concerned about hydrocodone.[9] It's commonly submitted as evidence in drug abuse cases. This means far too many people misuse this painkiller. 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1–4 days 
  • Blood: 1 day
  • Saliva: 12–36 hours 

Heroin in Your Body 

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine.[10] This medication is not used for pain relief. But it's easy enough to buy from street dealers. Some people addicted to painkillers switch to heroin in time. 

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 1–4 days
  • Blood: 6 hours
  • Saliva: 5 hours

Methadone in Your Body 

Methadone is an opioid, and it's used to treat OUD.[11] It's a long-lasting medication, and it's legal for people to use under the direction of a doctor.

Here's how long it can be detected in your body per testing type:

  • Urine: 2- 7 days
  • Blood: 2–3 days 
  • Saliva: Up to 10 days 

Different Ways to Test for Opioids in Your System 

If your employer or treatment team needs to determine exactly how much of an opioid is in your system, they can use one of many different testing methods. 

Saliva

Saliva drug tests are noninvasive, but they 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.

A swab of the inside of your mouth is used during this test.

Urine

A urine drug test is the most commonly used form of drug testing in the workplace.[12] This type of testing is testing for the byproduct of specific drugs.

With a urine test, you will urinate into a sterile collection receptacle.

Hair

Hair testing is less common, but your hair can hold metabolites of drugs for months after using them. The drug's metabolite 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.

Blood

A blood test can most accurately determine active drug use, but 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.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

Reviewed By

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Citations

  1. Half-Life. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554498/. June 2022. Accessed November 2022.
  2. Opioid Half-Lives and Hemlines: The Long and Short of Fashion. Anesthesiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439340/. May 2016. Accessed November 2022.
  3. Rapid-Onset Opioids for Management of Breakthrough Cancer Pain: Considerations for Daily Practice. Frontiers in Pain Research. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpain.2022.893530/full. May 2022. Accessed November 2022.
  4. A Comparison of Long- and Short-Acting Opioids for the Treatment of Noncancer Pain: Tailoring Therapy to Meet Patient Needs. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704132/. July 2009. Accessed November 2022.
  5. Fentanyl Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl. June 2021. Accessed November 2022.
  6. Oxycodone. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/oxycodone. Accessed November 2022.
  7. Codeine Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/codeine-information. January 2018. Accessed November 2022.
  8. Morphine. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Morphine-2020.pdf. April 2020. Accessed November 2022.
  9. Hydrocodone. Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/hydrocodone.pdf. October 2019. Accessed November 2022.
  10. Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/heroin. Accessed November 2022.
  11. Methadone. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/methadone. September 2022. Accessed November 2022.
  12. Drug Testing. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/drug-testing/. June 2022. Accessed September 2022.

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