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How Long Do Opioids Stay In The System? Opioids Drug Testing

Last Updated: January 14, 2022

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Opioids are drugs that are prescribed by medical doctors for the treatment of pain. However, many people who take opioids as a prescription get addicted and end up abusing the drugs. The opioid mechanism of action contributes to its analgesic properties, which may cause dependence and can lead to abuse and addiction. Depending on the types of opioids, these drugs can stay in the body for minutes or weeks. Other factors such as the weight of the patient and the number of drugs administered can also affect how long the drugs stay. This then determines the window of detection during drug tests. Each window of detection varies depending on the sample provided for testing. Getting rid of the drugs is another ball game. It is not advisable to stop cold turkey as this may trigger other unwanted health issues.

Opioid Mechanism Of Action

People ask how do opioids work? The opioid mechanism of action is quite similar to that of Cannabidiol (CBD) which acts on cannabinoid receptors in the peripheral and central nervous system and the brain. Mechanism of action of opioids includes working in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The brain produces endogenous opioids which include endorphins and enkephalins. They attach with opioid receptors in the body and help reduce the release of neurotransmitters sending pain signals to the brain. These endogenous opioids are produced in small quantities in the body for a short duration. Exogenous opioids can then be administered to treat severe or chronic pain. The main effect of these drugs in the central nervous system is in the spinal cord. In the peripheral nervous system, their main function is in the peripheral tissues and the gastrointestinal tract.

How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System

Generally, these drugs have a short half-life but how long they stay in the system depends on several factors. Also, the type of medicines that are ingested determines how long the drug will last. Also, different medications have different detection windows. This means that the type of opiate taken determines how long before it is detected in a test. The table below lists the type of drugs and their detection window during tests.

Drug Urine Blood Saliva Hair
Heroin 7 days 6 hours 5 hours 90 days
Hydrocodone 2 – 4 days 24 hours 12 -36 hours 90 days
Morphine 3 days 12 hours 4 days 90 days

Opioid Half-Life

The half-life of a drug is the time it takes for the concentration of the active ingredients to be reduced by half. Medical doctors and rehab centers use this information to help their patients withdraw from drug abuse and addiction. The half-life of opioids depends on the type which is being administered. Some have a shorter half-life while the half-lives of others are longer. For instance, the half-life of Methadone is between 12 – 18 hours with a mean of 15 hours. While the opioid with the shortest half-life is Remifentanil with a half-life of 9 minutes. Others like Morphine, Codeine, and Hydrocodone have an average half-life of about 3 hours.

Opioid Drug Test

An opioid drug test is meant to detect whether a person has used narcotic vs opioid or not. It also checks for addiction. To perform the opioid drug test lab technicians will use either a sample of blood, urine, saliva, sweat, or hair follicle. Most governmental agencies and private employers employ a system known as a 5-panel urine drug test. This system has 5 panels, each panel tests for a different drug. A typical 5-panel drug test can detect the following drugs: Cocaine, Amphetamine, Methamphetamine, opiates, marijuana, and PCP (phencyclidine).

There is also the 10-panel drug test that has 10 panels. These panels test for 10 drugs either in the blood, hair, saliva, or urine. A 10-panel drug test can identify drugs such as; amphetamine, cocaine, opioids, marijuana, phencyclidine (PCP), benzodiazepines, methaqualone, Methadone, barbiturates, and propoxyphene.

If an opioid is detected, then it is likely that the person is abusing the medication. If high levels of the drugs are detected, then the person may not only be abusing the medication but be addicted. Health experts may request the person to attend a rehab center to help with withdrawal and recovery. A person may lose their job or prestige if traces of these drugs are detected during the tests.

The process of drug testing.

Factors That Influence How Long Opioids Stay In The System

Various factors can have an impact on how long the chemicals found in the drug may remain within a person’s body. This is one particular concerning issue when looking at opioid crisis facts. People with a slower metabolism, for example, may be more likely to overdose on these drugs. In these cases, opioid overdose treatment might become a necessity to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.

Apart From the Fact That a Person’s Metabolism May Play a Role, Other Factors May Also Have an Effect. These Include:

  • The weight of the patient, as individuals with a larger body, may take longer for opioid metabolism to take place
  • The number of medications that were taken, as the body would have to metabolize more chemicals when a higher dose is used
  • How the drugs were administered also affects how the body will metabolize them
  • Certain medical conditions, such as problems with the individual’s kidneys, may also impact opioid metabolism and how quickly the body can flush the drugs from the system

All these factors also determine the window of opioid detection in the system. So, if opiates stay longer in the system, the chances of them being detected during tests are high. Different opiates have similar effects on the body but the amount of time it takes in the system differs. So what are the side effects of opioids?

Addicts who want to withdraw from the medications should seek help from a medical or rehab center.

Opioids Detox And Getting Drugs Out Of The System Safely

Even though there are certain drugs, such as the use of rapid opiate detox methods, where Naltrexone is often utilized, that may assist with reducing the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using these meds, the chemicals will continue to stay in the system, in urine for example. As previously stated, the opioids in the body system can also be detected in hair samples for a significant period.

Patients can consult health professionals on how to safely get opiates out of the system. Some doctors may recommend other remedies to help get rid of opiates and treat opioid addiction and dependence. Such methods include hydration and nutritional support. Health experts may also recommend hydrotherapy which involves baths and whirlpools to help with treatment and recovery.

When the individual stops the use of the medicines, opioid withdrawal treatment may be needed. In this case, drug abuse treatment would be preferred as this can help to provide the individual access to the right therapeutic services needed to overcome the addictive behavior successfully. People can opt for substance abuse rehab or an outpatient treatment center, but this will ultimately depend on how severe the addiction is that they have developed.

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Page Sources

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  2. R. Bettschart-Wolfensberger. (2012). Context-Sensitive Half-Life: An Overview. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/context-sensitive-half-life
  3. SAMHSA. (n.d). Drug Testing Resources. SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/resources/drug-testing
  4. MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Opioid Testing. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/opioid-testing/
  5. J. G. Bovill. (1997). Mechanisms of Action of Opioids and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. Eur J Anasthesiol Suppl. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9202932/

Published on: September 17th, 2019

Updated on: January 14th, 2022

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.