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How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System and Body?

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Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a relatively short-acting but powerful and highly-addictive opioid. There are a few different ways heroin use can be detected, and the time required to do so depends on the type of test performed and other factors. In general, however, heroin’s active metabolites can stay in the body for several hours to days after the last use. The most effective way to eliminate heroin from the body is to undergo detox in a clinical environment where the patient’s safety and comfort are a high priority.

Guardian Recovery is committed to helping those using heroin conquer their addiction and forge a new, healthier life in recovery. Using highly-individualized treatment plans and a full continuum of care, we provide individuals with the tools, support, and resources they need to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence.

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Metabolization & Half-Life of Heroin in the Body

Although heroin doesn’t remain in a person’s system for long due to its rapid metabolic process, its active metabolites can stay in the body much longer after the drug itself is broken down. As a result, these compounds can be detected on drug screens for extended periods, particularly in fat tissue and hair follicles. Two of these compounds are morphine and 6-MAM, which are eventually broken down further to produce inactive compounds for removal from the body.

Heroin has a half-life of 2-6 minutes, (1) meaning that half of the drug consumed will be eliminated from the body after this time. However, one of the primary metabolites of heroin, 6-MAM, has a much longer half-life of up to 30 minutes. (2) While it takes only 15 minutes for heroin to be undetectable on tests, 6-MAM can be found for up to 2.5 hours.

Duration of Heroin in Urine

Heroin can be identified in the urine for up to 48 hours after the last dose. (3) A urine screen is the most common screening technique for detecting many psychoactive drugs, including heroin. Urine testing is simple and inexpensive, and less invasive than blood tests.

Duration of Heroin in Hair Follicles

Commercial hair follicle drug-testing kits require approximately one half-inch of hair from the scalp. The length of time heroin can be identified will depend on how rapidly the person’s hair grows. For most individuals, heroin use can be detectable in hair follicle samples for around 90 days. (4)

Duration of Heroin in Saliva

Heroin can be detected in saliva within two minutes of injection and up to 5-6 hours. (5) Heroin saliva tests are not particularly useful because of how rapidly the drug is metabolized.

Duration of Heroin in Blood

Blood screens are also not the preferred approach to identifying heroin use, as it has a relatively short detection window (similar to saliva) compared to other methods. These are also invasive, expensive, and impractical in most cases.

False Positive Results

Due to heroin’s short detection window, tests are designed to identify its metabolites, namely morphine, and 6-MAM. Because 6-MAM is unique to heroin, false positives based on this compound are rare. Morphine, however, is also detectable in drug tests, and false positives based on its presence can occur through recent consumption of poppy seeds. (6)

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What Factors Influence the Duration of Heroin In Your System?

Many factors can affect how long heroin and its byproducts will remain in the body and be detectable on drug screens, including the following:

Hydration Levels

Consuming excessive water can allow a person taking a urine screen to dilute the concentration of drugs in their system, such as heroin and its metabolites. In some cases, this could result in a false negative. However, labs using specimen validity checks can often identify when dilution was used to conceal test results.

Dosage

The amount of heroin ingested will influence how long it stays in a person’s body. Moreover, if a person’s last dose was relatively small, the likelihood of producing a positive result is lower.

Metabolic Rate

A person’s metabolic rate can also affect the length of time it remains in their system. Individuals vary significantly in the speed at which their body processes substances, which can be slower or more rapid depending on their overall health status and genetic influences.

Length & Frequency of Use

It will likely take additional time for a chronic user to expel heroin from their body than a short-term or infrequent user. Therefore, long-term or frequent heroin use would be expected to result in a comparatively longer detection window.

Method of Administration

How a drug is administered can influence its duration in the body. For example, heroin taken by IV injection is associated with a faster onset and elimination period.

Urine Acidity Levels

If it is urine being tested, acidity levels in the sample can impact how heroin is eliminated. It could either speed up the drug removal rate or result in urinary tract reabsorption, thereby hindering its excretion.

Presence of Other Drugs

Other drugs can prolong heroin’s stay in the body, including medications used to treat heroin dependence, such as methadone or buprenorphine. Conversely, substances that accelerate metabolism, such as caffeine or ephedrine, can accelerate its elimination time.

What Is the Timeline of Heroin Withdrawal Effects?

Quitting abruptly or “cold turkey” without medical supervision can result in unpleasant and dangerous withdrawal symptoms and a high risk of relapse. Over time, people who routinely use heroin develop chemical dependence, meaning the body has grown accustomed to receiving the drug on a consistent, ongoing basis. As a result, when an individual discontinues use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms as their body struggles to adapt to the loss of the drug’s presence.

Symptoms of Acute Heroin Withdrawal Include:

  • Runny nose.
  • Teary eyes.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Insomnia.
  • Sadness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.

Heroin users typically begin encountering withdrawal symptoms between 8-24 hours after the last use and may endure for 4-10 days. (7) Withdrawal severity and symptoms may be influenced by many of the same factors affecting how long it stays in the body, such as the amount and rate at which heroin is ingested and the individual’s health profile.

Although heroin withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, it can be highly unpleasant. For this reason, medical detox is usually advised to ensure users can undergo this process safely and with minimal discomfort.

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Although heroin produces pleasurable effects in users, both short- and long-term consumption has been associated with many adverse physical, psychological, and social consequences. In addition to countless health complications, an inability to pass a heroin screen can result in employment loss, rejected job applications, and probation or parole violations. Fortunately, if you’ve been experiencing these detrimental effects as a result of heroin use, professional treatment is available.

Contact Guardian Recovery today if you are ready to overcome heroin addiction and to receive a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. You can speak to an experienced Treatment Advisor and learn more about our straightforward admission process, customized treatment plansmedication-assisted treatment, and evidence-based therapies.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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