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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Heroin has a very short half-life of only two to six minutes. The intense effects of heroin only last a few minutes, and overall sedation may last a couple hours.
The drug is metabolized into morphine, and that stays in your system for much longer. Heroin use may be detected in a urine drug test for up to four days after use.

Heroin Use Stats

In the United States, heroin is a Schedule I substance, meaning there are no medically recognized uses for the drug.
In 2017, around 81,000 people in the U.S. used heroin for the first time, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Approximately 494,000 people said they used heroin in 2017. 

This drug has a depressant effect on the body, causing euphoria and deep relaxation.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a type of opioid that is derived from the poppy plant seed pods. It comes in different forms, ranging from a sticky, dark substance to a bright white powder.
Once heroin gets to the brain, it binds to opioid receptors. Before binding to the receptors, heroin is converted to morphine, according to research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

 The initial effects of heroin can be intense.

  • Rush of euphoria
  • Warm or flushed skin
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy extremities
  • Severe itching

After the initial effects, heroin can cause drowsiness for several hours. This is due to how heroin works on the central nervous system. Other effects include slowed breathing and reduced heart function.

Long-term use of heroin can cause other potential health issues.

  • Heart valve and lining infections
  • Liver disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Abscesses
  • Pneumonia and other lung-related problems

Those who inject this drug are at risk for blood-borne pathogens, such as hepatitis C and B and HIV, due to sharing needles.  

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Routes of Administration

People can snort, smoke, or inject heroin. Injecting this drug causes the effects to occur the fastest.
On average, it takes seven to eight seconds to experience euphoria after injecting heroin. It can take up to 15 minutes to feel the effects when someone smokes heroin. It takes the longest to feel the effects when someone snorts the drug.

Smoking and snorting may not produce the intense euphoria that happens when someone injects this drug. However, the other effects of the drug still occur. Dependence, tolerance, and addiction are possible no matter how someone uses heroin.

Detoxing From Heroin

People can start to detox from heroin within a few hours of their last dose. It takes about 24 to 48 hours for withdrawal symptoms to reach their peak, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Heroin in a syringe and a spoon

It may be a few months before all the withdrawal symptoms go away. Though the bulk of withdrawal will have passed within about a week, the first several months following detox are a vulnerable time for relapse.
Due to how challenging detox can be, it is best for people to seek help from an addiction treatment center. Frequently,, medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine is used to stabilize the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin are usually broken up into two categories, including early symptoms and late symptoms. Early symptoms may include the following:

  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Increased tearing
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Agitation

Late symptoms may include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Goosebumps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abdominal cramping

How Long Heroin Stays in the Body

When someone gets a drug test for heroin, a sample of urine, hair, blood, or saliva may be taken. Urine drug tests are most commonly used.

The half-life of heroin is very rapid, taking 2 to 6 minutes for it to metabolize to morphine and 6-acetylmorphine. Morphine has a half-life of 1.5 to 7 hours, and 6-acetylmorphine has a half-life of six to 25 minutes. For heroin to be fully eliminated from the body, it takes approximately four to five half-lives.

The body processes heroin rapidly, but different metabolite substances that remain in the body for varying amounts of time. The metabolites are what can trigger a positive drug test.

The following are estimates for how long heroin remains in different drug test samples:

  • Heroin may be present in saliva for up to 48 hours.
  • It may be present in the hair for up to 90 days.
  • Heroin may be present in the urine for up to 4 days. Within 2 to 6 hours of use, someone can have a positive test.
  • Heroin may be present in the blood for up to 12 hours.

Several factors can play a role in how long a drug is detectable when someone gets a urine drug screen:

  • If someone is well hydrated, it could cause a negative result due to their urine being very diluted
  • A person’s metabolism plays a significant role. Metabolism is unique and is influenced by environmental and genetic factors. For example, someone’s ability to metabolize opioids may be affected by a polymorphism of the CYP450 2D6 enzyme.
    The detection window can also be shorter for people who are taking certain medications since they have an effect on this enzyme. Examples of these drugs include dexamethasone and rifampin.
  • The dose also impacts how detectable a drug is in urine. If someone takes very low doses, or they do not take the drug for several days, it might not show up in their urine.

Someone who uses heroin heavily is more likely to test positive for a longer period of time, in most cases.
Another factor to consider is kidney and liver function. When these organs are not working efficiently, it may result in heroin remaining in the body for a longer period of time. Using other drugs along with heroin, overall body weight, and age also play roles in detection time frames. 
Even using a small amount of heroin can cause a positive drug test. A surefire way to pass a heroin drug test is to avoid taking the drug for at least a week. If a hair follicle test is used, however, avoid use for at least three months prior to the test.

Sources

2017 NSDUH Annual National Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report

Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/heroin.html

(April-June 1991) Heroin Addiction: Neurobiology, Pharmacology, and Policy. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1662715

(January 2018). What Are the Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use? Verywell Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-short-term-effects-of-heroin-use-63226

(November 2018) The Various Ways Heroin is Taken. Verywell Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-is-heroin-used-63225

Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use

Heroin. Center for Substance Abuse Research. Retrieved February 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/heroin.asp

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. MedlinePlus. Retrieved February 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

(November 2018). How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? Verywell Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-heroin-stay-in-your-system-80262

Drugs of Abuse Home Use Test. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/InVitroDiagnostics/DrugsofAbuseTests/ucm125722.htm

Laboratory Reference Guide. Redwood Toxicology Laboratory. Retrieved February 2019 from https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Programs/CIP/events/redwood/LAB_Reference_Guide.pdf

(February 2016) Here’s How Long Various Drugs Stay in Your Body. Business Insider. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-long-various-drugs-stay-in-your-body

(August 2014) Hair Drug Testing Results and Self-Reported Drug Use Among Primary Care Patients with Moderate-Risk Illicit Drug Use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieve February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080811/

Interpretation of Opiate Urine Drug Screens. HealthPartners Institute for Medical Education. Retrieved February 2019 from http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=29&docid=2108

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