Drug Test FAQ

How Long Can Opioids Be Detected in Your System? 

A pill bottle of circle tablets

As someone who has researched synthetic urine products, I have learned a lot about how long different drugs stay in your system to avoid unwarranted positives. This article will share what I have learned about how long opioids remain in your system and what detection tests are available.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Opioids are excellent medications to control severe pain, but they have the potential to be misused
  • Employers and law enforcement agencies can test urine, blood, hair, and saliva to determine if you have taken an opioid
  • The length of time opioids can be detected depends on the type of test and the type of opioid taken
  • Opioids can be found in your blood and urine for hours to days and in your hair for months

Types of Opioids

A bottle of a variety of pills spillingThe term opiate originally referred to any psychoactive compound with morphine-like properties.

The word now encompasses a broader class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opiates (known as opioids).

The opium poppy is the underlying source of opiates and opioids. Opiates are natural derivatives of the poppy seeds and include morphine and codeine.

There are also semi-synthetic opioids that are partially derived from poppy seeds. These include compounds such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, buprenorphine, and heroin.

Finally, there are fully synthetic opioids that are not derived from opium but are designed to mimic opiate-like properties. This class of medication includes methadone, fentanyl, and meperidine [1].

The Dangers of Opioids

Opioid addiction is a serious public health concern. The number of opioid-related deaths rose from 50,963 in 2019 to 69,710 in 2020 [2].

As a result, law enforcement officials have received more power to detect opioids by conducting tests on suspects and bodily fluids at crime scenes.

Employers are also increasingly testing job applicants and employees for opioids as part of their workplace drug policies.

Also, medical treatment providers use tests to diagnose substance use disorder and substance abuse problems, before dispensing their professional medical advice as part of the treatment process. 

However, there are good reasons to take opioid medications, such as relieving short-term pain after surgery [3]. Still, since employers are concerned about employees using these medications, even prescription use can interfere with employment plans.

Thus, it is beneficial to know how long you can detect opioids in the body.

How Do They Work in the Body?

A man in bed staring in the air

Opioids work by upregulating the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. These substances bind to specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other organs. When attached to those receptors, the body activates its own neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that reduce the subjective perception of pain and produce feelings of pleasure and relaxation [4].

When taken as prescribed, they can be safe and effective at controlling severe pain. However, opioids can be abused. When misused, opioids can cause many side effects, including [5]:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Headache and mental fog
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Itching and flushing
  • Respiratory depression

They can also lead to addiction and overdose. Addiction occurs because opioids are so potent they can stop your brain from producing dopamine naturally [6]. When this happens, your body becomes dependent on the opioid to produce enough dopamine to feel normal and good.

Kinds Of Opioid Detection Tests

There are four main types of tests used to detect opioids: urine, blood, saliva, and hair. Each test has its advantages and disadvantages [7].

  • Urine tests are the most common type of drug test used today. They’re relatively cheap and easy to administer and can detect current and historic opioid use.
  • Blood tests are more expensive and invasive than urine tests but are more difficult to fake. They are more accurate than a urine test, but only for current or recent use.
  • Saliva tests are less standard than urine or blood tests, but they are the least invasive drug testing option available. They are also less accurate than either blood or urine. Saliva tests are suitable only for recent opioid use – not historic.
  • Hair tests are an expensive and somewhat intrusive type of drug test. In order to collect a sample, a small amount of hair (usually from the head) is cut at the scalp line and sent to a lab for analysis. The hair has to be taken by a trained examiner.

Hair tests are not good at detecting recent or sporadic use of opioids, but it has the longest and widest detection period of any exam. Opioids stay in the hair for up to three months.

How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

Someone in bed staring at the ceiling

Opioids stay in your system for a variable time that is dependent on factors such as:

  • The type of opioid used
  • The amount taken
  • Your weight and age
  • Your gender
  • Your history of opioids
  • Your medical conditions and speed of metabolism

In general, an opioid will provide systemic effects for five times its active half-life.

The active half-life (t½) of an opioid is the amount of time it takes for half of a substance to be metabolized by the body. For example, if you take a dose of 100 mg of an opioid with a half-life of 3 hours, after 3 hours you will have 50 mg of the drug in your system. After 6 hours, you will have 25 mg in your system. And so on.

As an example, oxycodone has an active t½ of 3.2 hours [8]. This means the effects will wear off in about five opioid half-lives, or 16 hours.

However, this does not mean that the drug can no longer be detected – it will stay in your system for far longer and can be found by a treatment provider or other professional. Detection is based on the elimination half-life of the medication for a given test, not the active opioid half-life.

The elimination half-life of an opioid is the amount of time it takes for the substance to be completely metabolized and removed from your system. The elimination t½ is usually longer than the active t½ because it takes your body additional time to break down and eliminate the drug completely.

The above rules vary based on body fat percentage since the body metabolizes medications more slowly in fatty tissues. Opioids stay longer in a heavy person, so they will test positive for a greater period of time than one with less fat.

How Long Can Opioids Be Detected?

Someone holding pill while in chains

How long opioids can be detected in your system depends on the half-life of the drug taken and the testing methods used. Here are some common examples [9]:

Oxycodone

Oxycodone is initially metabolized in the liver to noroxycodone and noroxymorphone. These metabolites are then eliminated in the urine.

Oxycodone can stay in your system and be detected at a treatment facility in:

  • Urine: 1-4 days
  • Blood: 12-24 hours
  • Saliva: 1-2 days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

Codeine

Codeine is a prodrug that is metabolized in the liver to morphine which is also processed by the liver. Morphine is then eliminated in urine.

Codeine opiates stay in your system and can be detected at a treatment center in:

  • Urine: 1-2 days
  • Blood: 12-24 hours
  • Saliva: 1-4 days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days after the last dose

Morphine

As mentioned before, morphine undergoes extensive metabolization by the liver. It is then sent through the kidneys before excretion in urine.

A certified addiction professional at a specific treatment center can detect morphine in:

  • Urine: 1-3 days
  • Blood: 12 hours
  • Saliva: 1-4 days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is metabolized in the liver to norhydrocodone. This metabolite is then excreted in the urine.

A specific treatment provider can detect hydrocodone:

  • Urine: 2-4 days
  • Blood: 2-3 days
  • Saliva: 12-36 hours
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

Heroin

Heroin is metabolized in the liver to 6-acetylmorphine and then morphine. These metabolites are then filtered by the kidneys and eliminated in urine.

A treatment facility can detect heroin in:

  • Urine: 7 days
  • Blood: 6 hours
  • Saliva: 5 hours
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is metabolized in the liver to the inactive metabolite norfentanyl. The kidneys eliminate a small amount of fentanyl.

A treatment provider can detect fentanyl in:

  • Urine: 1 day
  • Blood: 12 hours
  • Saliva: unreliable
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

Other opioids have their own time after drug use that they are no longer detectable.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Opioids are what FDA schedule of drugs?

Opioids are Schedule I through Schedule V medications per the FDA, depending on the specific drug[10]. Opioids are all scheduled drugs because of their high potential for overdose, drug abuse, and addiction.

Schedule I opioids, like heroin, are not authorized for any medical purposes. There are no treatment options for which a healthcare provider may prescribe these drugs.

Most opioids are Schedule II drugs – meaning they are prescription drugs that have legitimate medical purposes but a high potential for drug abuse. These include oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, and many others.

Schedule III-V prescription drugs have less abuse potential. Examples include Tylenol with codeine, cough suppressants, tramadol, and buprenorphine. A medical provider may frequently use these as a treatment for medical issues.

What is perspiration testing?

Perspiration testing, or sweat patch testing, are drug tests that look for opioids in your sweat. The test involves wearing a patch for up to two weeks that collects your sweat. The patch is then sent to a lab, where it is analyzed for the presence of drugs.

Because it takes much longer to do than urine or blood testing, perspiration testing is not commonly used by employers.

Why are urine tests so popular for opioids?

Urine tests are popular for opioids because they are relatively easy to collect and do not require special equipment. Thus is it done often in employment testing and addiction treatment centers. Additionally, the liver metabolizes most opioids, which then are excreted by the kidneys. Thus, it is easy to find traces of drug use in urine testing.

What is opioid tolerance?

Opioid tolerance is when you need to take higher and higher doses of an opioid to achieve the same desired effect. This is due to actual brain chemistry changes by the opioid compounds. Tolerance can happen with both therapeutic and recreational use of opioids.

“Anyone who takes opioids on a regular basis will become dependent upon them, meaning they will have to taper off gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. But very few chronic pain patients exhibit the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors of someone who is addicted.” ― Karen Lee Richards, co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association.

What is opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction is the compulsive desire to use opioid drugs, even when they are not medically required. This is a problematic pattern of substance use that leads to significant impairment or distress. It can include tolerance, withdrawal, and compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite adverse consequences.

It includes opioid tolerance, but not all people who are tolerant to opioids are addicted to them. However, those who are addicted benefit from addiction treatment.

What is opioid dependence?

Opioid dependence is the body’s physical need for an opioid to prevent physiological and psychological withdrawal symptoms. It differs from addiction, which is considered a psychological condition. However, the two often go hand-in-hand.

What are the withdrawal symptoms of opioids?

Withdrawal symptoms from opioids may include [11]:

  • Anxiety, irritability, and agitation
  • Insomnia and yawning
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Fever and sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bone, muscle, and joint pain
  • High blood pressure and rapid heart rate
  • Runny nose and watery eyes

These symptoms can be highly uncomfortable, so some addiction treatment centers will provide medication to ease the discomfort of substance abuse withdrawal.

How do I know if I’m addicted to opioids?

A woman stressed while talking to someone holding a clipboard

You may be addicted to opioids if you have built up a tolerance to opioids or find that you need to take higher and higher doses to get the same desired effect.

Other signs of addiction include:

  • Spending a lot of money on opioids
  • Neglecting work or school
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Continuing to use opioids despite negative consequences

If you think you may be addicted to opioids, reach out to your health advisor or addiction treatment providers. The medical community has many resources available to help you overcome substance abuse addiction and can provide professional treatment advice.

Is Opioid Detection Reliable?

Opioid detection is extremely reliable. The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) promotes “the highest possible standards of professionalism and quality control in the drug and alcohol testing industry [12].” Their tests are very accurate during the timeframes discussed in this article.

For more information on how you may prevent opioid or opiate use from being detected in your urine, click here.


References:

  1. https://www.workplacetesting.com/2/1061/drug-testing/opiates/introduction-to-opiates-and-drug-testing
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2021/20210714.htm
  3. https://www.choosingwisely.org/patient-resources/using-opioids-safely-after-surgery/
  4. https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/opioid-addiction/how-do-opioids-work-mechanism-of-action
  5. https://www.drugrehab.com/addiction/prescription-drugs/opioids/effects/
  6. https://www.cenikor.org/resources/how-do-opioids-affect-the-brain/
  7. https://www.goodhire.com/resources/articles/saliva-drug-test/
  8. https://druggenius.com/half-life/oxycodone/
  9. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/prescription-drugs/how-long-in-system 
  10. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/opiates/controlled-substances
  11. https://www.withdrawal.org/prescriptions/opioid-withdrawal-signs-symptoms/
  12. https://datia.memberclicks.net/mission

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