Opiates are a class of drugs derived from opium and most frequently used as either a painkiller or a recreational drug. However, like other opioid-class drugs, they are highly addictive and can be difficult to put down, even if you have a drug test or screening coming up.
Whether you or a loved one are about to face a drug test, you’re wondering how long drugs stay in your system for health reasons, or you just want to know, there are a lot of factors involved. Considering the specific type of drug, the frequency of use, and other details are important, and most people metabolize slightly differently.
What Factors Affect Opiate Metabolizing?
All opiates are naturally derived from specific alkaloids in the opium or Chinese poppy. However, the strength, longevity, and effect of each of these alkaloids are different, meaning that different types of opiates will stay in your system for more or less time. However, there are also many other factors to consider:
- Metabolism – Drugs are metabolized based on how quickly the body digests and uses them. This varies per individual.
- Body Mass – A larger person will typically metabolize more quickly. Similarly, a very muscular person will metabolize more quickly than someone with less muscle.
- Body Fat – Opiates are lipophilic, meaning that they tend to deposit into fat. This is a natural process of the body, where chemicals and hormones (the body naturally produces its own opiate alkaloids) are stored in fat when levels are too high in the body and then are released back into the body when levels go down. This means that someone with a higher body fat ratio will retain opiates in their system for far longer than someone who is very thin.
- Age – Metabolism slows down with age, so a 20-year-old will metabolize opiates much more quickly than a 60-year-old.
- Kidney and Liver Health – The kidneys and liver are responsible for actually filtering the opiate out of your system. A well-functioning kidney and liver can complete this process much more quickly than one damaged by substance use or other problems.
- The Drug and its Purity – The stronger the drug and the longer it’s half-life metabolism, the longer it will take to leave the system.
- Water Intake – Water is a crucial part of the process of flushing toxins and waste out of the body. Someone who drinks a lot of water will flush remaining chemicals from the bladder much more quickly.
- Opiate Usage – A heavy opiate user may find that they have very built-up in their system, and will take significantly longer to deplete and leave the system.
There are many other factors that affect how long opiates stay in your system, including the drug, the acting length, and the type of drug test.
Equianalgesic Table and Comparative Strength
The Equianalgesic table compares the rough equivalence of one drug to another. It’s typically used to determine an appropriate dose, and was originally constructed based on a safe dose of oral morphine. However, the chart isn’t always correct, because some substances become stronger with consecutive dosing. For example, the strength of tramadol increases with continued use, because its active metabolite accumulates in the body.
Comparing common opiates to 10mg of morphine gets the following results:
- Diamorphine (Heroin) – 2.5 mg
- Codeine – 67-100 mg
- Fentanyl – 0.1 mg
- Methadone – 3.33 mg
- Hydrocodone – 10 mg
- Oxycodone – 6.67 mg
So, different types of drugs can be considerably stronger than others, and may show up in urine and hair follicles considerably longer than others. For example, diamorphine shows up in the urine for up to 7 days after last use, which is longer than the average 2-3 days for most opiates. However, because heroin has a very short half-life it only shows up on saliva tests for about 5 hours and in blood tests for about 6.
Drug half-life or elimination half-life is the period of time between when a drug enters the system and when its volume in the body is reduced by half.
What this means is that over the period defined in the half-life, the drug’s presence in the system depletes by half. Then, because it likely continues to metabolize at the same rate, it will likely continue to reduce at the same rate.
So, using diamorphine, or heroin as an example, you can consider how long the drug would stay in your system. Heroin has an average half-life of about 34 minutes. If someone were to take a dose of heroin, the body would metabolize it accordingly.
- 34 minutes to ½ strength in the body
- 68 minutes to ¼ strength in the body
- 102 minutes to 1/8 strength in the body
- 138 minutes to 1/16
- 172 minutes to 1/32
- 206 minutes to 1/64
- 240 minutes to 1/120
While this is an oversimplification and actual metabolizing will depend on the body, it gives you a good idea of how the process works and how substance levels deplete in the body.
However, drugs like heroin permeate the blood-brain barrier, which means that they can affect the system after the minimum effective dose is reached. Heroin wears off when it reaches the minimum dose required to give an effect, after about 4.5 hours. Detectable levels would remain in the blood for about 6 hours. This is also important, because if you take a drug test and say that you took a substance about a week ago, the doctor will know when you’re lying.
Common opiates have a half life of about:
- Diamorphine (Heroin) – 2-3 minutes biological, 34 minutes intravenous
- Codeine – 2-3 hours
- Fentanyl – 10 minutes- 4 hours
- Methadone – 8-59 hours
- Hydrocodone – 3-4 hours
- Oxycodone – 2.4.5 hours
Duration of Action
Finally, you have to consider the duration of action. A drug that is intended for extended release will stay in the system for considerably longer than a fast-acting drug. For example, Oxycodone, which has a half-life of an average of 3.5 hours stays is detectable in the blood for 24-48 hours, but in the saliva for up to 4 days. Morphine is detectable in the blood for about 12 hours and in the urine for about 3 days, and hydrocodone can be detected in the urine for about 4 days.
Almost all drugs can be found in the hair for up to 90 days after the last usage.
Most opiates can no longer be detected in the blood, saliva, or urine after 4 days, others are gone within 7 days. If you have a slow-release drug intended to last 24-48 hours, it will last significantly longer. If someone uses frequently, the level of opiates will also build up faster than the body can metabolize, meaning that it takes longer to leave the system. So, there are a lot of variables that affect the actual length of time opiates stay in your system.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate abuse, you’re not alone. An estimated 4 million Americans are addicted to opiate drugs. But, there is help. You are protected under HIPAA should you choose to take time off work to seek out opiate addiction treatment, where you can detox from opiates and learn how to live and enjoy your life without substance use.
Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.