How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?

Dr. Ximena Sanchez-Samper

Ximena Sanchez-Samper, MD is a Board- Certified Addiction Psychiatrist who obtained her degree as a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and completed her Addictions Fellowship through the combined Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital / Brigham and Women’s Hospital Addictions Fellowship program in 2004.

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How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

Opioids are a class of drugs that reduce pain and produce intense highs lasting for multiple hours. Although the altered state of mind wanes after a relatively short duration, you may be surprised to learn that the chemicals remain in the body long after you reach a point of sobriety. The euphoric feelings may subside, but the drugs still have an effect on your well-being as they linger in the bloodstream.

In addition to blood, trace amounts of opioids can be detected in other parts of the body, such as hair and saliva. The following guide will explain how long various opioids remain in your system and the way these drugs affect the human body.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a series of narcotics that produce a feeling of numbness in the body. The numb sensation is accompanied by drowsiness that affects the mind’s overall functioning. These drugs are prescribed to treat immense pain and discomfort. Opiates are naturally occurring variants of the drug derived from the poppy plant. However, there are also a handful of synthetic opioids that emulate similar effects. 

What Are Opioids Prescribed For?

Opioids are primarily used to treat various forms of pain. For instance, people with cancer and people who recently had surgery will get a prescription to make it through the first few days of recovery. Individuals with painful vascular diseases that disrupt blood flow are also eligible for a prescription. Finally, certain cases of acute and chronic pains may result in a brief prescription getting filled out. Occasionally, opioids are also used to treat diarrhea by slowing how fast food is processed through the gastrointestinal tract. 

When opioids are prescribed, the amount allotted is often just enough to alleviate the client’s discomfort. This is due to the highly addictive nature of opioid drugs. In order to reduce the number of dependencies that develop, doctors attempt to keep the dosage to an absolute bare minimum.

The Reason Why Opioids Are Addictive

Like many types of drugs, opioids are highly addictive and habit-forming. There are two main reasons why these chemicals can be so difficult to stop using, especially if you are already predisposed to having an addictive personality type. The first is the euphoric feeling that replaces the pain you were previously experiencing. The elated state of mind is addictive in and of itself. However, when combined with the second reason behind why opioids are so addictive, it is easy to see why drug epidemics are rampant across the country.

As a person introduces an opioid into their system, the body quickly develops a drug tolerance to it. This means the body needs more of the substance to experience the same effects as the first few times taking the drug. In the case of opioids, people will need more to escape the pain and to chase the euphoria that occurs after enough of the chemicals are consumed. This leads to a vicious cycle that spirals out of control faster than most people can handle.

How to Avoid Becoming Addicted to Opioids

Since opioids are so addictive, you must be careful whenever they are prescribed to you. The ideal course of action is to follow your doctor’s orders exactly as they are written. If you have any questions, call your doctor before making any sudden decisions about the medication. Be sure to stop taking any prescribed opioids as soon as the pain returns to a tolerable level. You can even substitute the opioids with an over-the-counter pill such as Tylenol for any lingering pain. Please ask your doctor, though, before consuming anything that may interact with your prescribed dosage.

Do Opioids Have Side Effects?

As with any drug, there are several side effects that may manifest as a result of taking the medication. In addition to a heightened tolerance and possible addiction, here are some potential side effects to watch out for. 

  • Dizziness or drowsiness
  • Nausea that may lead to vomiting
  • Respiratory depression, especially in people with asthma or other lung conditions
  • The inability to produce bowel movements

The above side effects are somewhat common when taking opioids. However, there are a few more serious and less common side effects that demand a bit more of your attention should they arise:

  • Itchy skin or muscle rigidity
  • An increased sensitivity to minor pains or discomfort
  • Dry mouth
  • Arrhythmia
  • Sleep-disordered breathing

How Do Opioids Work in the Body?

The human body has a number of nodes called opioid receptors throughout the central and peripheral nervous system. The opioid receptors modulate mood, pain levels, rewards, stress, and gastrointestinal functions. When stimulated the right way, these receptors begin the process that allows neurons to release dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for the elimination of pain and the onset of euphoria enjoyed by opiate users. 

Unfortunately, the overproduction of dopamine eventually leads to the negative side effects of opioid use. When the body is constantly flushed with dopamine, the simple pleasures awarded by daily living can fall by the wayside in favor of habitual drug use. The cycle constantly demands more of the substance, and the user is never fully satisfied with how much is consumed. 

What Factors Influence Drug Processing Speed?

The amount of time an opioid remains in the system depends on several factors and the exact substance consumed. Most of these drugs come in pill form, so they must pass through the digestive system before being released into the bloodstream. This means it takes about an hour for the effects to kick in, and that is before the body begins the process of removing those chemicals.

Injecting or smoking an opioid will introduce it to the bloodstream much faster, meaning the effects of the high can begin in mere seconds. However, the body will also expel the drug that much faster as well. Here are some additional points to consider on the topic of drug processing speeds:

  • The user’s metabolism rate
  • Body fat percentage, mass, and weight
  • How often an opioid is consumed by the person
  • Hydration levels of the body
  • Purity, quantity, and quality of the drugs
  • Age of the body and the overall health of organs such as the liver and kidneys

An Overview of How Long Opioids Stay in Your System

Of course, the main factor that determines how long an opioid stays in your system is the actual substance consumed. Here is a breakdown of how long the most common opioid medications actively linger in the body.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

 Hydrocodone tests usually read positive within the first 12-36 hours afterward. It can be detected in urine for two to four days on average. Surprisingly, traces of it remain in the hair for up to 90 days beyond the last time it was taken. 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Heroin works incredibly quickly, both in producing an effect and leaving the system entirely. A saliva test can only detect heroin for up to five hours. A blood test can detect it for six hours, and a urine test is accurate for up to a week. Hair tests once again cap out at 90 days after the first dosage is taken.

How Long Does Codeine Stay in Your System?

Codeine is another relatively fast drug that only remains in the blood for up to 24 hours. It remains in the urine for up to 48 hours, and a saliva test is good for multiple days. Hair is once again 90 days, but this can be increased in users who consume heavy amounts of codeine on a regular basis. 

How Long Does Morphine Stay in Your System?

Morphine is a drug that slowly releases into your system. It moves slower, and thus the effects tend to last longer. Despite this, urine tests only work for three days and blood tests only appear positive for 12 hours. Saliva tests are effective for four days, and morphine can also remain in the hair for up to three months.

How Long Does OxyContin Stay in Your System?

OxyContin enters the bloodstream almost immediately, and a urine test will come back positive if the drug was taken longer than an hour ago. It remains in the urine for up to four days, and saliva tests detect it for up to 48 hours. The half-life of Oxycontin is just three to five hours, though parts remain in your system for much longer due to the production of metabolites in the liver that are slowly excreted through the kidneys. The process takes time, hence this is why a hair follicle test can detect Oxy for up to 90 days after it was last used.

Find Opioid Addiction Relief and Resources Today

Battling with the effects of opioid use can be a trying time in anyone’s life. While recovery will take some effort, having a team of experts by your side will make the process far more reasonable. At Charles River Recovery, we emphasize both the care and the resources you need to break the destructive habits interfering with your daily life. Getting help has never been easier as we have friendly staff members waiting on standby to assist you. 

Simply check out our website to see a list of resources and rehab centers available for you. Our goal is to facilitate improvement on an individual basis for all of our clients. If you or someone you know needs opioid rehabilitation services, we have a warm welcome waiting for anyone willing to take the next step on the road to a fulfilling life.