Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a Schedule I controlled-substance in the United States and is considered by many to be the most addictive drug in the world when compared to other more popular illicit drugs. Heroin is typically associated with the highest likelihood of developing an addiction both psychologically and physically.
Given the fact that the country is facing the most deadly drug epidemic in American history thanks to the opioid overdose outbreak, heroin abuse is now a primary concern facing most of the nation. Other opioids, like prescription painkillers, have contributed to the rising rates of heroin use, and the addition of other potent drugs like fentanyl, heroin is more dangerous than ever.
Heroin overdose is currently one of the top causes of accidental death. People use more than the body can handle and it shuts down. Also, the withdrawals of heroin can be particularly difficult. So how long does heroin stay in your system?
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System: Important Elements
When asking how long does heroin stay in your system we have to examine some of the important elements that impact the effects of heroin on the body. Heroin is typically injected intravenously to make a faster impact, but it is also smoked or snorted. Heroin has longer lasting effects compared to drugs like cocaine and meth, but it also has a shorter half-life of only approximately 30 minutes.
What does half-life of heroin mean? Essentially, when an individual uses a single dose of heroin, it will take about 30 minutes for half of the drug in the person’s system to be flushed out. However, some studies actually suggest that this half-life is as short as 3-8 minutes, not 30.
The accurate amount of time it would take is not cut and dry. The half-life of heroin depends on a number of factors for each individual, including:
- Body fat
- The amount taken
- Purity of the drug
- Method of use
- Health of the liver
- Kidney health
Not all bodies are the same, so of course not all bodies will be able to get rid of heroin at the same exact rate. A body with more fatty tissue and less hydration will probably retain the chemicals longer than someone well-hydrated with a lean build.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System: Drug Testing for Heroin
Some might hope they can measure the presence of heroin in the system based on drug tests. Of course the length of time a drug is detectable with a drug test depends directly on the rate at which heroin leaves the body. Different drug tests often have different lengths of time they measure, so one might be able to tell you someone used heroin, but it may not be particularly active in the body.
Approved drug tests through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for heroin use:
- Hair follicle
Heroin is typically no longer detectable in a person’s urine after just 2 days, but some tests have detected positive results in up to 7 days.
Blood and saliva tests aren’t often used for most opioids because they have such a short half-life. It can only take about 5-6 hours for heroin to be undetectable for these tests, but in some cases it may actually last up to 2 days.
The only effective long-term test for traces of heroin is the hair follicle test, which can detect heroin for up to 3 months or more. However, if you are trying to find out if heroin is still active in the body, the long-term doesn’t really help.
Many tests now look for heroin metabolites, which are what is created when the liver metabolizes the drug. These stay in the system much longer than the actual intoxicant, so while you can detect the presence of the metabolites, the drug itself isn’t necessarily active. However, many believe that among long-term and/or frequent heroin users, the drug may actually remain in a person’s system for much longer than detectable on a drug test.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System: Withdrawal
One reason many people will want to know how long heroin stays in the system is for the sake of overcoming their withdrawal symptoms. Especially for those who are familiar with suffering through these painful periods of abstinence, the question of how long does heroin stay in your system is about avoiding extended discomfort.
Withdrawal symptoms of heroin include:
- Extreme anxiety
- Excessive yawning and sneezing
- Runny nose
- Cold sweats
- Severe muscle and bone aches
- Cramp-like pains
- Involuntary spasms in the legs, arms, and neck
Heroin withdrawals will not be the same for everyone. The same things that impact how long it stays in the system will also impact how severe the withdrawals are. Other substances that are used along with heroin will also have an impact on how serious the withdrawals can be and how long they may persist.
It has been estimated that heroin withdrawal symptom can start within 6-12 hours from the last dose and may be present up to 5-10 days.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System: Overdose Danger
One big reason things like the half-life matter is because of how it increases the risks of overdose.
If we say that after ingesting heroin approximately 50% of the drug has been cleared from the body in somewhere between 8-30 minutes, what tends to happen during this time is that many people assume by time their “high” ends, most of the heroin is already fully cleared from their system. However, when the “high” ends, up to 50% of the heroin will still be in your system, and so will its metabolites! So while some people think the high wears off that quick so they may think it’s safe to do more, there is still a fair amount of that drug present in the body.
Although heroin is quickly metabolized and eliminated from the body, its metabolites remain present for a longer duration. When heroin is used it is de-acetylated into 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM). This chemical then metabolizes into morphine. Morphine’s half-life is estimated to be between 1.5 and 7 hours. As a result, the morphine in the body created by using heroin could stay in your system for 1.60 days before it is entirely eliminated.
So when we ask how long does heroin stay in your system, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. What we can say is that one thing the probably contributes a lot to the skyrocketing rates of overdoses and deaths is that people don’t understand the heroin half-life or how long it stays in the system.