How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?
Types of Drug Tests
Drug tests are used to check for the presence of drugs in the body. They can be used to screen for marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, steroids, and more. Drug tests can be used to determine the specific type and levels or amounts of certain substances in the body.2
People regularly undergo drug testing as a condition of employment, for participation in sports, or when ordered by the court or police during the course of an investigation.2 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews and approves drug tests for use in the United States.3
Certain drug tests can detect not only heroin itself but its metabolites, too. Metabolites are additional substances formed when a drug breaks down. Most of these are created when the liver metabolizes the drug. One of heroin’s metabolites is 6-monoacetylmorphine, or 6-MAM. Another heroin metabolite is morphine.4
Here are the most common types of drug tests:
- Urine: This is the most common type of drug screen. It involves collecting a urine specimen and sending that specimen to a laboratory for analysis. Urine testing is good for short-term detection.5,6
- Hair: Hair testing is often used in cases where other types of tests cannot be conducted, such as after death or in a criminal case. Hair testing has several advantages over some other types of testing. For example, hair analysis allows for the detection of drugs in the system for more extended periods of time. Compared to urine testing, it is also harder to tamper with hair tests.6
- Blood: Also known as a toxicology screen, many emergency departments perform this type of drug testing. Blood testing is commonly performed in cases of suspected drug overdose as well as for other diagnostic purposes. Blood testing is also done during post-accident investigations and can be conducted when someone is severely injured, intoxicated, or dead. Many types of drugs can be detected in the blood, although THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be hard to measure in blood samples.6
- Saliva: With an oral screen, a specimen of saliva is collected and sent to a laboratory for evaluation. This type of testing is affordable and yields reliable results. It is also convenient and can be used to test for drugs at any time and place.5,6
- Sweat: A variety of drugs can be detected in sweat, including but not limited to cocaine, heroin, methadone, alcohol, and amphetamine. This type of testing is often used to monitor current prisoners or parolees. With sweat testing, the person wears a patch for several days. The patch accumulates sweat, and then the residue from the sweat is analyzed for the presence of drugs.6
Detection in Tests
Heroin does not stay in the system for very long. However, the exact time that it can be detected depends on many factors, including the person’s metabolism, how much they used, how long they used, and hydration status (i.e., amount of fluid intake).7,8
The amount of time that a drug remains in the system depends on its half-life. Heroin has a short half-life of 3-8 minutes. Therefore, after less than 10 minutes, 50% of the heroin that was just used has already been eliminated from the body.4,9
The liver metabolizes heroin into morphine, which can remain in the system for a greater period of time (morphine’s half-life is 1.7 to 4.5 hours).4 So, even after the heroin itself has been cleared from the body, its metabolites remain. Because of this, heroin can show up on a drug test for a much lengthier period than one might suspect, given its very short half-life.
Heroin shows up on a urine test within 2 to 6 hours after using it and can be detected via a urine test from 1 to 3 days after the last use.5,8 It can be detected in saliva within minutes and up to 48 hours.5
Several factors determine how long heroin stays in your system.
- Metabolism: A person’s metabolism is what helps the elimination of the drug from the system. A faster metabolism can result in a shorter period of heroin detection. Metabolism varies from person to person. It is determined by environmental, genetic, and other factors including sex, ethnicity, and age. 7
- Amount used: The amount of heroin used can change how long it can be detected. If a low dose of heroin is taken, it may not be recognized with certain types of tests.7
- Fluid intake: If a person is well-hydrated, it may dilute the urine and cause a negative result.7
- Length of use: People who have used the drug for a longer period of time may have built up a greater amount of the drug in their system that may take longer for their body to metabolize.7
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- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Drug Testing.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Drugs of Abuse Tests.
- Redwood Toxicology Laboratory. (2018). Opiates Drug Information.
- Redwood Toxicology Laboratory. (2014). Laboratory Testing Reference Guide.
- The University of Arizona. (2018). Biological Tests.
- HealthPartners Institute For Medical Education. (2018). Interpretation of Opiate Urine Drug Screens.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Drugs Of Abuse Home Test.
- Rook, E., Huitema, A., van den Brink, W., van Ree, J., and Beijnen, J. (2006). Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacokinetic Variability of Heroin and its Metabolites: Review of the Literature. Current Clinical Pharmacology, 1, 109-118.
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