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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Heroin is one of the most addictive and harmful addictive substances. In United States, heroin is categorized as schedule I substance by FDA. It means that heroin is a highly addictive drug with no established medical use. Heroin is a fast acting drug and its effects can be felt as soon as it is consumed. Disappearance of its euphoric effects on the body doesn’t mean that the drug has left the system. In fact, it tends to stay in the body even days after last drug use. For heroin abusers, it takes some time to appear clean on a drug test.

How long does heroin stay in your system?

Upon consumption, heroin may produce a short term high of a few minutes or a long term high of a few hours depending upon the mode of heroin administration. Usually, heroin is considered a fast acting drug with a very short half ranging between 3 to 8 minutes.

Considering this, half of the heroin consumed is cleared from the system within 10 minutes of last use. By the time heroin high ends, usually 50% of the heroin is removed from the system and the other 50% is still present. On average, heroin is completely removed from the system within 45 minutes. Although original drug is removed, its metabolites tend to stay in the system for much longer.

When heroin enters the system, it is broken down to its metabolite ‘morphine’. The half life of morphine is considered to be 1.5- 7 hours. So it can stay in the system for up to 1.6 days before it is finally cleared. For long term and heavy users, it may take even longer for heroin to leave the body.  When substantial amounts of heroin are taken, body is not able to metabolize it as efficiently. The body metabolizes and excretes the maximum amount of heroin it can and the rest of it is stored in fat cells.

Factors that determine how long heroin stays in your system:

The half life of heroin may greatly vary from one person to the other depending upon a number of factors:

  • Individual variations:
    • Age: Usually, older people are not able to metabolize heroin as fast as younger people do. It may be attributed to a number of reasons such as younger people tend to have a faster metabolic rate and better physical health.
    • Body mass index: The height and weight of a person also influence the time taken for heroin clearance. A person with more body mass will remove heroin at a faster rate compared to a person with low body mass.
    • Genetics: There are certain enzymes involved in the process of heroin metabolism. The presence and expression of certain genes in the body regulates the production of these enzymes. Metabolic rate of a person is also determined by their genes.
    • Liver and kidney function: Liver and kidney function as well as overall health of a person influences clearance rate of heroin. Liver and kidney are the major organs involved in the process of heroin metabolism and removal. A person with healthy liver and kidney is likely to metabolize heroin at a much faster rate than a person with diseased organs.
  • Dosage of heroin taken:
    Greater the amount of heroin consumed, the longer it will take to remove it from the body. This is because body is only able to detoxify a certain amount of heroin at a given time. When heroin is taken in substantial amounts, it will get stored in fatty tissues and will be gradually released later.
  • Frequency of use:
    Frequent use of heroin leads to development of tolerance. As a result, the user takes more and more amounts to produce desired results. This long term and heavy use of heroin leads to its accumulation in certain body tissues and it takes the body longer to remove it.
  • Grade of heroin:
    Grade or purity of heroin is directly related to time taken for its removal. Since heroin is an expensive drug, the dealers usually cut it with other drugs or substances. For example, meth or amphetamines can be added to heroin to alter its purity. Heroin is classified into 4 grades depending upon its purity. No. 4 is the purest heroin available. No. 3 is pure, no. 2 less pure and no. 1 is the least pure heroin.
    If one person consumes no. 4 heroin in less amount while another person takes large amount of no. 1 heroin, then person who has taken no. 4 heroin is more likely to retain it for longer periods of time.
  • Mode of consumption:
    Heroin can be consumed in a number of ways such as intravenous injections, snorting, smoking and oral ingestion. The time taken for clearance is influenced by the way it is consumed.

    • Intravenous injections: Heroin directly enters the bloodstream when it is injected. It produces its effects within a few seconds and the high usually lasts for 4-5 hours. The process of its detoxification also starts quickly. The metabolites from heroin and even pure heroin can be detected in blood. So people who inject heroin are more likely to retain it for longer periods of time.
    • Smoking: Smoking heroin produces a quick high that lasts for 3-5 hours. Heroin is quickly absorbed into blood via lungs. The bloodstream carries the drug to all parts of the body including liver. The people who smoke heroin retain it for longer periods of time compared to people who orally ingest it.
    • Snorting: When snorted, heroin is transported to blood via nasal tissues. Usually, the heroin used for snorting is less pure compared to the one used for smoking and injecting. As a result, it is less detectable in the body when snorted.
    • Oral ingestion: Usually, low grade heroin is used for ingestion. It is slowly absorbed in the blood via gastrointestinal tract. It is less detectable when ingested as compared to other modalities of consumption.

Heroin absorption, metabolism and excretion:

Post consumption, heroin is quickly broken down into 6-monoacetylmorphine and finally into morphine. Morphine is further converted into morphine-3-glucuronide and morphine-6-glucuronide. These metabolites are mainly excreted via urine and to a lesser extent via bile.

After injecting heroin, about 70% of its metabolites are excreted through urine. Apart from conjugated morphines, a number of other metabolites such as normorphine, codeine, morphine-3-6-diglucuronide, and morphine-3-ethersulphate are also excreted.

Usually, the half life of heroin ranges between 2-8 minutes. Almost 100% of it is broken down to metabolites that are excreted via urine. However, in long term and heavy users, some of the heroin may remain unchanged that is also excreted through urine.

The concentration of metabolite 6-monoacetylmorphine peaks within a few minutes of heroin ingestion. This metabolite tends to have a longer half life that is estimated to be 5-52 minutes. After an intravenous injection, 6-monoacetylmorphine remains detectable in plasma for up to 1-3 hours while in urine for up to 1-5 hours.

Only a small amount of heroin appears as 6-monoacetylmorphine in the urine while the remaining amount appears as morphine and morphine glucuronides. These can be detected within minutes of heroin ingestion. The half life of morphine ranges between 2-7 hours while that of morphine guluronides ranges between 2-6.5 hours.

Drug tests used to detect heroin in the system:

There are a number of tests that can be used to detect if a person has consumed heroin. Most of the drug tests detect metabolites of heroin such as 6-monoacetylmorphine, morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide and morphine-6-glucuronide.

  • Urine tests:
    Urine tests are most frequently used because they are non-invasive and easy to perform. However, due to short half life of heroin, it may become a little difficult to pinpoint heroin consumption. Most of the urine tests detect heroin metabolites such as diacetylmorphine, 6-monoacetylmorphine, morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide, morphine-6-glucuronide etc. It is highly unlikely that a person would have unchanged heroin in their urine. However, it is possible in case of long term and heavy users.
    These metabolites can be detected for up to 2-5 hours after last heroin use. However, some opioid metabolites can be detected for up to 3 days.
  • Blood tests:
    Since heroin has a very short half life, it is very difficult to detect it in blood for more than 2 hours after last drug use. A blood test is only used if a person is suspected to be high on heroin. Also, blood tests are not as accurate as other modes of testing so they are seldom used.
  • Saliva tests:
    Saliva tests are non-invasive and easy to perform but they are rarely used to determine if a person has used heroin. Saliva tests show most accurate results when conducted after an hour of heroin consumption. It shows that heroin does not appear in saliva as soon as it is consumed. In some cases, saliva tests can be used to detect heroin for up to 21 hours after last drug use.
  • Hair tests:
    Hair tests are an accurate way to determine if a person a used heroin for up to 90 days after last drug use. For long term and heavy users, heroin becomes incorporated in hair. However, for a new user, it may take some time to build up enough heroin in their hair. Another drawback of using this method is that hair tests do not reveal if a person has used heroin within past few days.

Tips to speed up the process of heroin removal from the system:

After quitting heroin abuse, certain steps can be taken to speed up the process of heroin removal and recovery of system to normal function:

  • Taking a detox program: After quitting heroin abuse, the body starts to remove it from the system. The process can be painful due to appearance of a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Availing a detox program at a specialized detox center can speed up the process and can improve the chances of recovery.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle: Eating healthy and doing regular exercise can speed up detoxification process. Exercise and yoga are known to stimulate metabolism and as a result, the process of heroin removal speeds up.
  • Drinking plenty of water: Staying hydrated can immensely help to remove toxins and foreign substances at a faster rate.
  • Taking supplements: Taking certain supplements can help speed up the process. These supplements can be prescribed by a doctor during a detox program to ease the process for the patient.