What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine, a substance found in the seeds of poppy plants. Most people take heroin by injecting it into their arms through a needle. Heroin quickly reaches the brain and produces extreme feelings of pleasure, which is why it becomes addictive so quickly. But, the symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be painful and even deadly. The longer you use heroin, the more your body builds up a tolerance to the drug. That means people have to take larger amounts to produce similar effects. Taking too much heroin to chase a high can lead to an overdose.
Heroin use has increased across the US among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Some of the most significant increases happened in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. This is according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . In 2018 in the United States, about 808,000 people reported using heroin during the past year. In the same year, about 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription .
Heroin’s effects last longer than the effects of drugs like cocaine and meth, but it has a particularly short half-life of only 30 minutes. This means that if a user takes a single dose of heroin, it will take 30 minutes for half of the drug in the person’s system to be flushed out. Some studies suggest that this half-life is as short as 3-8 minutes. However, the metabolites produced as the drug is broken down are detectable on standard drug screening tests for around one to four days. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug , meaning that it’s a substance with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
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Factors that Affect How Long Heroin Lasts
Once heroin enters the body, it races to the brain’s opioid receptors, and the body starts to break down the heroin to restore stability. The exact rate at which heroin and its subsequent components are metabolized is different for every user.
Heroin is often pushed out of your system through your kidney in the form of urine, but it also exits through sweat, saliva, and even feces. Your weight, body mass, and metabolism will impact the rate at which heroin is pushed out of your body and for how long you might test positive for it. If you are unwell, you might take more time to get the heroin out of your system, making you test positive for it for longer.
- How long heroin will be detectable is determined by how much heroin was actually taken. If it’s your first time using it, you won’t have high amounts of it in your system, so it should flush out within a few days if you don’t take it anymore. If you are a chronic user, it can last for a week or more in your system and be detectable by a test.
- Heroin is often mixed or cut with other drugs, like fentanyl, cocaine, or ketamine. This can create a drug cocktail of sorts that could be extremely dangerous, especially if you are unsure what the heroin is mixed with.
- With street heroin, the purity level you are getting with some doses could end up being stronger than others. These levels will impact how long the drug stays in your system.
On average, heroin has a half-life of two to eight minutes, meaning that it has broken down to 50% of its initial volume in that period. It takes between four and five half-lives – somewhere between eight and forty-eight minutes – for heroin to be eliminated entirely from the system.
When it breaks down, this semisynthetic opioid becomes metabolized into morphine and 6-acetyl morphine (6-AM). Morphine has a longer half-life of the two, lasting up to seven hours. Once morphine breaks down, the high subsides, but the compounds it turns into are detectable in urine tests for days. Heroin and its metabolites pass through breast milk and can cause a baby to overdose. Do not breastfeed while using heroin.
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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?
So how long is heroin in your system? Heroin has a half-life of half an hour, meaning that it would take 30 minutes for it to be reduced by half in a person’s system. How long heroin stays in your system depends on the dose and your history of heroin abuse. Simply put, heroin could last up to an hour in a person’s system. How long heroin can be detected in certain drug tests also varies.
Heroin and Hair Tests
Hair tests have the longest detection window of all types of drug screenings. To explain, heroin can be detected in hair follicle tests for up to 90 days after a person’s last use of the drug. However, people who have been abusing the drug for an extended period of time may have far longer hair follicle detection windows.
Heroin and Urine Tests
Urine tests are most frequently used when trying to test for heroin in the system. Heroin will be detected in a urine test for up to 4 days after last use, and in some frequent users, it could be for longer, depending on how much heroin has built up in their system.
Heroin and Saliva Tests
Saliva tests are similar to blood tests in the way that they cannot detect heroin in the system for very long. As a result, saliva tests are rarely used to screen for opioid drugs like heroin. However, saliva drug screenings may detect heroin for up to 5 hours after a person’s last use. However, saliva tests are very accurate at testing for heroin, so they are a common choice to use if someone suspects that a person has taken the drug in the last few hours.
Heroin and Blood Tests
Blood tests are typically only used in the event of a medical emergency where individuals require immediate attention. Furthermore, heroin isn’t detected in blood for very long, so blood tests generally detect heroin for only 5-6 hours after the drug was taken. In rare instances, blood screenings may detect heroin for up to two days.
The 6-AM assay test allows for heroin metabolites to be detected in the blood, though this is mainly useful when testing people who have recently passed or been in accidents to determine if street heroin was used or prescribed opioids for pain.
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Opioid testing detects evidence of opioid use in an individual’s body. Opioids may be prescribed by a doctor to manage moderate to severe pain (morphine, codeine), or they may be obtained and used illegally (heroin, illegally manufactured fentanyl).
Opioid testing can be performed on a sample of a person’s blood, hair, saliva, sweat, or urine. Testing for opioid use may be performed for a variety of reasons, including employment testing and when monitoring people for prescription drug misuse.
Purpose of the Opioid Test
Opioid testing is used to detect evidence of opioid use or abuse. Opioid use describes the use of illegal opioids, such as heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl. Opioid abuse refers to using prescription opioids in a manner that differs from a doctor’s recommendation. Testing for the use and abuse of opioids may be performed for a variety of purposes:
- Drug testing is commonly used in psychiatric care, substance use treatment programs, and as a way to monitor the use of prescription opioids. It’s uncommon to screen hospitalized patients for opioid use, even in cases of a suspected overdose.
- An employer may require drug testing for job applicants before being hired, regularly during employment, or after an accident. Workplace drug testing is required by federal law in certain safety- and security-sensitive industries, such as transportation.
- The Department of Defense requires drug testing for members of the military. Urine drug tests are ordered randomly and at other times, such as when a superior believes that a service member is using drugs.
- Professional athletes are often required to take part in drug testing programs. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency prohibits the use of many opioids for athletes participating in competitions.
Legal and forensic testing
- Drug testing may be conducted during an investigation or court case. For example, drug testing may provide evidence after a motor vehicle accident or in a case involving child abuse or endangerment.
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Heroin Test vs Prescription Opioid Test
Prescription opioids like codeine and morphine are commonly used in medicine, despite their highly addictive properties. Heroin has something in common with these prescription drugs; they are all derived from the opium poppy.
It means that if an individual who has used heroin is tested for the drug toward the end of its detectable cycle, it may have already been metabolized in the same way that prescription opioids would be.
For instance, heroin is broken down into morphine, and then further broken down into hydromorphone. An individual who has been legally administered codeine or morphine will show those same alkaloids once those drugs have broken down. While this sort of situation is theoretically possible, it’s rarely an issue.
What’s more, any possible confusion can be easily cleared up when the person is unable to provide a prescription or medical documentation stating that they have these alkaloids in their system for legitimate reasons. Often, a person will test positive for opiates, at which point a more comprehensive screening is completed.
Heroin users will face difficulty explaining the presence of heroin in their drug screening, even if they do have a prescription for another opioid because heroin is often detected in its original form rather than one of its alkaloids.
How to Get Heroin Out of Your System?
The main problem with heroin abuse is that when people stop taking heroin after becoming dependent on it, they experience withdrawal symptoms. These flu-like symptoms are not deadly but are extremely uncomfortable and difficult to deal with. Since the body has become dependent on opioids, the withdrawal period is an adjustment phase where the body and mind adapt to functioning without the drug. As the substance continues to leave the system, the withdrawals become less severe, and the body returns to normal functioning .
That being said, going through heroin withdrawal alone is never a good idea. Waiting for the drug to clear your system and to feel back to normal can be a brutal experience. So instead, it is always recommended to seek help from an addiction treatment provider near you. By obtaining help, you ensure your safety and success while you let your body process and eliminate all traces of heroin.
Finding the Next Level of Treatment At We Level Up NJ
If you’re wondering how long does heroin stays in your system and is detected on drug tests, you are also probably wondering how to get the heroin out of your system. Unfortunately, there is no pill you can take or drink you can drink to surely and safely flush heroin metabolites from your system. Instead, the only way to get the drug out of your system is to stop using it and ask for professional help.
If you’ve tried to quit in the past but ended up using heroin again, that’s a clear sign you need professional help. Get them the safest help they need and deserve. Our team at We Level Up NJ specializes in creating an ideal environment and providing effective therapies.
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 CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/index.html
 NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
 DEA – https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
 NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use