Several naturally occurring opiate alkaloids—such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine—serve as the chemical building blocks of many semi-synthetic opioid drugs, including heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
Many opiates are essential 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.
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:
Of course, the type of opiate also factors into how long it can be detected by drug tests. Commonly prescribed opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin, 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, while blood tests can detect it for about 6 hours after the last use. Urine tests are the most commonly used, and can detect heroin up to 7 days after the last use.Urine tests are the most commonly used, and can detect heroin up to 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 averages may extend beyond the outer limit if the individual is a heavy, long-term user.
People always wonder if eating a poppy seed muffin or bagel before a drug test will end in a false positive. The answer to that is, yes it can. However, testing guidelines have improved and it’s less likely to be flagged for opiate use after eating poppy seed-containing foods. In the past, poppy seeds have been known to cause testers to fail for up to 16 hours after consumption. Since poppy seeds contain low levels of opiates, many tests now have a higher threshold to avoid false positives. This article has additional information on drug testing with poppy seeds taken into consideration.