Whether natural or synthetic, opioids affect the body in much the same way. However, when it comes to how long opioids stay in your system or how long they can be detected on a drug test, there are a variety of considerations including which opioid was taken, what test is being administered, and a multitude of personal factors.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are chemicals that produce an analgesic, or pain-relieving, effect. These chemicals reduce the intensity of pain signals that we feel by interacting with opioid receptors that are located on nerve cells within our body and brain.

Occurring naturally in the environment or produced synthetically or semi-synthetically in labs, this class of drugs includes both illegal opioids as well as prescription opioids.

Legally prescribed pain-relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine, are generally safe when used under medical supervision and for a short period. These drugs are often used for serious injuries, post-surgical procedures, and for cancer-related pain management.

However, the body can quickly and easily build a tolerance to these drugs, which can lead to dependence and addiction. Exacerbating the potential for misuse is the fact that opioids produce feelings of euphoria in addition to their pain-relieving effects.

Opioids vs. Opiates

Many times people will use the terms “opioids” and “opiates” interchangeably. However, these two terms actually do have different meanings.

‘Opioid‘ is the broad term encompassing natural, semisynthetic and synthetic opioids. ‘Opiate‘, on the other hand, is the narrowed down term referring only to natural opioids.

  • Natural Opioids (Opiates) – heroin, morphine, and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic Opioids – oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone
  • Synthetic Opioids – methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl

As the name implies, natural opioids are made in nature. These are substances that occur naturally in the seed pods of certain varieties of poppy plants.

Synthetic opioids initially created and approved for medical use, are fully produced in a laboratory with the same intention of targeting opioid receptors in our brains for pain-relieving purposes.

Most Commonly Used Opioids

There are many forms of natural and synthetic opioids being produced across the globe, both illegally and for medicinal purposes. The three most predominant are: 

Prescription Opioids

Fentanyl

Heroin

Prescription opioids are typically taken orally in pill or liquid form, or through an IV when in a hospital setting. Illicit opioids are injected, snorted, or smoked.

The most common prescription and illicit opioids include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Diphenoxylate
  • Propoxyphene
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Carfentanil
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin

How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

Determining how long opioids stay in your system isn’t necessarily a clear-cut answer. The specific type of drug taken as well as a variety of individual circumstances will affect the length of time that an opioid will stay active in your system.

In terms of how long opioids remain detectable on a drug test, that will primarily depend on the type of test, which opioid was used, as well as those individual factors.

Due to the variety of influencing elements, the information below is not definitive and is based on averages. For example, most urine tests can detect heroin for 1-2 days. However, in studies of long-term users, it’s been found that heroin can be detected for up to 7 days.

Opioid Drug Testing Methods

The most common method of testing for opioids, and drugs in general, is via a urine test. Drug testing is commonly used for employment, whether for hiring purposes or in standard intervals, and as part of the terms of condition for probation. It can also be used for criminal or accident investigations or as part of a court case.

There are five opioid testing methods, not including meconium testing which is limited to detecting maternal drug abuse or infant exposure. These methods include:

Urine

Urine testing is the most common and most well-researched of the drug testing methods. Urine tests are readily available and can show high concentrations of both parent drugs as well as metabolites. However, these tests can be easily adulterated and may require supervision of collection, resulting in “shy bladder” syndrome and the inability to collect a sample. Depending on the drug, you can test positive for opioids on a urine test for up to 4 days after the last use.

Oral Fluid

Oral fluid testing, also known as a saliva test, is noninvasive and easy to collect. Saliva tests require a much lower screening level than urine and have a reduced risk of adulteration as collection is directly observed. On average, you can test positive for opioids on a saliva test within a few minutes up to 4 days after the last use.

Hair

Hair testing has the longest window of detection, is easy to collect, and difficult to adulterate. However, it can be costly and there are not as many laboratories that perform these tests. In addition, it can be difficult to interpret the results, which may also be biased with hair color or contaminated by environmental factors. Hair tests can detect opioid use up to 3 months after use.

Blood

Though blood tests can detect opioids within minutes of use, they are generally only utilized in emergency situations as they have a very short detection window, are invasive, require trained personnel to administer, and can be expensive. On average, opioids can be detected in blood for 1 day.

Perspiration

Perspiration tests allow for quick detection using a sweat swipe or longer testing with a sweat patch. It is non-invasive, requires little training, and is more economical than urine testing. However, it is still a newer method with not as much research for variables. Sweat swipes detect opioid use within 24 hours while patches detect use within 7-14 days.

Factors that Affect How Long Opioids Stay in Your System

Several factors affect the length of time a drug will remain in your system with the most obvious being how much was taken. Most people also know that body size, including height and weight, as well as gender will influence this result.

However, some other factors are not as obvious, and some may even surprise you. Factors that affect how long opioids remain in your system include:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Metabolism rate
  • Body mass index
  • Method in which the drug was taken
  • Quality of the drug
  • Amount taken
  • History of opiate usage (how much and how often it is taken)
  • Dehydration
  • Presence of medical conditions that affect the liver or kidneys, which impacts drug elimination
  • Presence of other drugs in the body, including prescribed medications or alcohol

The variety of determinants mean that the same type and amount of opioid can remain in the bodies of equal size and gender individuals for entirely different amounts of time.

Side Effects of Opioid Use

There’s no doubt that prescription opioids provide unparalleled pain relief. However, many side effects come along with these benefits, including the serious risk of addiction and overdose. Side effects include:

  • Increased tolerance and physical dependence
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low testosterone

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid use disorder can take hold of a person before they know it. As the body builds up a tolerance, and the brain fixates on those pleasurable feelings, opioid use will begin to interfere with daily life. Once an individual becomes physically dependent on an opioid, it can become very difficult to stop without intervention. Signs that someone is struggling with opioid addiction include:

  • Inability to control use, despite being aware of negative consequences
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Money troubles
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Claiming lost or stolen medications
  • Requesting increases in medications
  • Decrease in activity, function, and relationships

Signs of Opioid Overdose

With the opioid epidemic continuing to ravage our nation, opioid overdose is all too common. Yet, overdose deaths are entirely preventable. Common signs of a possible opioid overdose include:

  • Slow breathing
  • Blue lips and fingernails
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy

If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, it’s imperative you get them help right away. Death can be prevented using naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug, if it is administered in time.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, there are many options for you to get help. St. John’s Recovery Place offers comprehensive opioid addiction treatment including medical detox, behavioral therapies, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient and outpatient rehab, and aftercare services. Things can change and you can get your life back. Call our office today at 833-397-3422 and speak with a team member who can help get you started on your journey to recovery.

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