How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?

PillsOpiates are a class of drug that has been derived from a plant commonly called the opium poppy.
 
Morphine and codeine are considered natural opiates, while heroin and oxycodone are synthetic variants. Hydrocodone, more commonly known as Vicodin, is semi-synthetic.

Many opiates are essential for in the medical community for their sedative and painkilling properties, though heroin is a morphine derivative that’s exclusively recreational and highly illegal. All of these drugs have a high addiction potential, and even those that are given out legally via prescription are often abused and can be found on black markets. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2012 World Drug Report, 26.4-36 million people across the globe abuse opiates.

Factors That Affect Drug Processing

Opiates tend to have short half-lives, meaning that they leave the system quickly, though effects can last for several hours. How long each opiate can be detected by drug tests varies depending on many factors, including the type of ingestion. Prescription opiates typically come in pill form. Taking a drug orally means that it has to pass through the digestive system first, so it can take around an hour for the effects to begin. On the other hand, substances like heroin are more often injected, smoked, or snorted. These methods create a much faster and more intense high, and they pass out of the body sooner.

Other factors affecting how quickly an opiate leaves the system include:

  • The individual’s metabolism rate
  • Body mass and weight
  • Body fat content
  • Health of the liver and kidneys
  • Age
  • How often and how heavy opiate use is
  • Quality of the drug
  • Amount of water in the body

Of course, the type of opiate also factors into how long it can be detected by drug tests. The most commonly used opiates are heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine.

Heroin is a particularly fast-acting drug with a very short half-life. A saliva test will only be able to detect heroin for the first 5 hours after the last dose, and blood tests work for an average of 6 hours. Urine tests are the most commonly used, working for 2-7 days after the last use. Hair follicle tests, however, can find heroin for up to 90 days.


Hydrocodone leaves the body even faster, with saliva tests only working for the first 12-36 hours after the last pill was taken. Urine tests can detect hydrocodone for 2-4 days, and hair tests are effective for 90 days.


Morphine takes longer to work than heroin and the effects tend to last longer. Despite this, blood tests can only detect morphine for the first 12 hours after the last dose, and urine tests only work for up to 3 days. However, saliva tests are more effective, being able to detect traces of morphine for up to 4 days. Again, morphine stays in the hair for 90 days.

Lastly, codeine is one of the fastest of all opiates to leave the system. It can be found in the blood for just 24 hours, and in urine for 24-48 hours. Saliva tests have a wider range, being effective for 1-4 days after the last dose. As with the rest, it can be found in a person’s hair for up to 90 days.
These are all averages. However, due to the fact that opiates will build up in fatty tissues after excessive use, these limits will extend beyond the outer limit if the individual is a heavy, long-term user.

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