How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

February 2, 2023

Table of Contents

Heroin has a short half-life, with about 50% of the drug eliminated from a person’s system within 15 minutes of last use. 

It is likewise often difficult to detect. Urine and blood tests will only detect heroin usually only one or two days after use. Only hair testing has a particularly long potential detection window of a few weeks. 

The Effects of Heroin

Heroin is a short-acting opioid generally used for its ability to cause euphoria. Using heroin is associated with a variety of side effects, including these:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Heaviness in the extremities 
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory depression, which can become life-threatening with heavy drug use
  • Warm flushing of the skin

A heroin overdose, which can be life-threatening, is characterized by these signs:

  • Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing
  • Poor circulation, resulting in a bluish tint on the lips and fingertips
  • Damp skin
  • Convulsions
  • Unconsciousness, where a person cannot be woken up or only with great difficulty[1]

What Does It Feel Like to Use Heroin?

Initially, using heroin is a pleasurable experience which is why people often begin to use it multiple times. However, the body quickly becomes dependent on heroin and repeated use can result in opioid use disorder. Eventually, the body becomes dependent to the point where the individual feels physically ill (withdrawal) when they do not use the drug. It is at this point that they often need to use heroin not even to get high, but simply just to “feel normal” and function. This creates a cycle of addiction. 

How Does Heroin’s short half life contribute to its addiction potential?

Heroin (and similar opioids like fentanyl) last a particularly short time compared to other opioids. The intense euphoric rush associated with its use may only last 10 to 15 minutes, with its lesser effects lasting a few hours. This is part of why it is so addictive: as a general rule, drugs that act quickly and reach a peak in the body quickly tend to be more active than drugs whose effects occur more slowly. 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

If a person has become dependent on heroin or fentanyl, they’re likely to experience withdrawal within 8 to 48 hours of their last use of heroin, assuming that they haven’t also been using other longer-lasting, opioids.[2] On the other hand, everyone is different, and some people may experience withdrawal only a few hours after last use, particularly with cases of severe addiction. 

How Long Can Heroin Be Detected on A Drug Test?

Heroin has a very short half-life, taking between 0.1 to 0.25 hours for half the drug in your blood to be eliminated.[3] This also means it has an unusually small detection window, often only detectable in someone’s blood or urine within the same day of their last use of the drug or perhaps the day after.

It can potentially be detected in a person’s saliva for up to 36 hours and their sweat up to 14 days, although the exact detection window for a given individual’s drug use will depend on a number of factors.[4]

Hair can potentially carry signs of a person’s drug use for up to three months, although this window can be shortened with frequent, short haircuts, a practice some people who use drugs intentionally engage in to hide their drug use. Hair follicle tests tend to be more  expensive and are not commonly used in most clinics. 

Factors That Impact Detection Window

Common factors known to sometimes impact a person’s detection window for drug use, including heroin use, include the following:

  • Type of test used
  • The patient’s health, specifically regarding their ability to process drugs
  • The quality of the patient’s nutrition
  • Certain medications

Generally speaking, heavy drug use will be detectable for longer compared to light drug use. Similarly, a person who regularly uses opioids may have their drug use detectable for longer compared to someone who doesn’t regularly use opioids.

If you have been using opioids including heroin and are trying to detox, there are many things that can help, including evidence based treatments such as Suboxone and Methadone. Don’t try to do it alone - reach out to your doctor or to us here at Bicycle health to get more information about whether Suboxone or Methadone might be right for you to treat acute withdrawal from opioids or even for more long term treatment of OUD.

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.

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  1. Heroin. Drug Enforcement Administration. November 2022. Accessed December 2022.
  2. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. World Health Organization. 2009. Accessed December 2022.
  3. Drug Plasma Half-Life and Urine Detection Window. ARUP Laboratories. September 2022. Accessed December 2022.
  4. Opioid Testing. September 2022. Accessed December 2022.
  5. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. 2018. Accessed December 2022.
  6. The Effectiveness of Medication-Based Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder. Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Saves Lives. Accessed December 2022.

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