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How long it takes for opiates to leave your system is a question that anyone considering treatment for a prescription painkiller or heroin addiction asks—and the answer may surprise you. Get it here:
Prospective clients considering treatment for drug or alcohol addiction including opioid dependence often want to know how long it will take for a particular drug to leave their system. In the case of opiates, a class of drugs derived from the poppy plant, opiate withdrawal symptoms and timelines can vary based on a number of factors. Opiates can include a pretty wide range of drugs, after all. They include doctor-prescribed painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone—the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the U.S., according to a recent estimate from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—and highly potent, illegal derivatives like heroin and fentanyl.
This article will introduce you to the various types of opiates and their corresponding rates of metabolism, on the basis of firsthand information from experts in addiction treatment. You will also gain a better understanding of other non-drug-specific factors that can have a bearing on how long withdrawal from opiate can take to clear the system.
How Long Commonly Abused Opiates Stay in the Body
All opiates, whether naturally derived from the poppy plant or made in a lab, share the same chemical nature. This means opiates are also, generally speaking, quite fast-acting and have a relatively short half-life (the time it takes for half of a dose to be metabolized).
In other words, “You can clear most opiates pretty quickly, within one to four days,” according to Dr. Edward Zawadzki, the medical director at Beach House Center for Recovery. What he was referring to is the short window of time within which most opiates will show up in a urine test following last use. Urine drug testing is a treatment recommended by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), which has provided detailed, opiate-specific information regarding the window for detection for clients with various opiate abuse disorders.
As a general rule, the most commonly abused opiates tend to be the fastest acting and the quickest to leave your system—namely, heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine.
How long does heroin stay in your urine or saliva?
Take heroin, for example, a urine test can detect heroin between one and three days following last use; and the window for detection is even shorter when a saliva test is used—only .5 to 8 hours following last use. That being said, the heroin withdrawal timeline can vary from person to person.
How long is hydrocodone detectable in urine?
Hydrocodone and codeine, common pain killer prescription opioids, take even less time to leave the system, becoming impossible to detect via a urine test within roughly one to two days after use.
How long does oxycodone stay in your urine?
When an opiate drug (like oxycodone) comes in both immediate and extended release forms, the immediate release form will be metabolized much more quickly. With oxycodone, the immediate release version of the drug will not be detectable in urine within one to 1.5 days following last use, whereas the drug’s extended-release form can show up in a urine test later, anywhere between 1.5 to three days following last use.
How long does methadone stay in your urine?
The opiate, methadone, is a bit of an exception, insofar as it takes longer to kick in and can stay in the body for a significantly longer period. Methadone can be detected in the urine 3-11 days following last use.
In addition to urine and saliva testing, however, blood, fingernail and hair tests can be used to detect opiate use. Hair tests can detect many of these same opiate drugs as many as 90 days following your last use.
Withdrawal Effects of Opiate Drugs vs. Their Rates of Metabolism
Whether or not a positive drug test confirms the presence of opiates in your system, the more important medical reality to contend with involves the negative and longer-lasting physical effects of these drugs. These can linger for quite some time after the last traces of an opiate leave your system—a point that Dr. Zawadzki was quick to emphasize. He wants readers to understand there is a critical distinction to make between a drug’s metabolism time (how long the drug takes to leave your body) and the withdrawal symptoms and other physical effects of a drug. In other words, just because a drug has left your system does not mean it is not still causing potentially risky physical withdrawal symptoms and other effects.
“Between Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) and other psychological factors, you can reap the effects of taking opiates for quite some time,” he said. “A lot of patients come in and ask, ‘What’s the half-life of this drug?’ but while that’s good to know, it’s not the full picture. Just because Prozac, for example, has a long half-life doesn’t mean you won’t have a withdrawal effect: even if the drug is gone, that doesn’t mean it’s not having effects.”
Types of Opiates
Opioid withdrawal symptoms and how long it will take an opiate to clear your system can also depend on the type of opiate you have been using. Research shows, for example, that structural differences between opiates can contribute to differences in length of metabolism.
There are three types of ingestible opiates. In addition to these three types of opiates, there is technically a fourth class of opiates that your own body produces endogenously in the form of enkephalins, dynorphins, endorphins, and endomorphins. Morphine and codeine are natural opiates, meaning they are alkaloids that are present in the poppy plant itself, but in addition to natural opiates, there are synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates. Synthetic opiates are drugs that have been synthesized entirely in a lab. Semi-synthetic opiates are made (synthesized) using natural opiates.
Among semi-synthetic opiates, the more well-known include:
- Hydrocodone (a.k.a Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (a.k.a Percocet)
Synthetic opiates include:
A more comprehensive list of semi-synthetic and synthetic opiates can be found here, compliments of the online medical journal, News Medical.
Other Factors Affecting Drug Processing
Other factors that can affect how quickly an opiate leaves the system include the following variables related to an individual client’s medical profile and addiction history:
- The length and severity of use – If an individual has been using an opiate for many years at higher doses, they may require an extended taper from the drug during detox and withdrawal requiring a long-term recovery program.
- The health of the liver and kidneys
- Body mass, weight, and fat content
- Metabolism rate
- Amount of water in the body
For more information about opiate withdrawal and detox, these Learning Center articles should be helpful:
- Benzos Detox: Withdrawal Symptoms and Recovery Timeline
- Vicodin Withdrawal Timeline: Common Symptoms to Expect
- Percocet Withdrawal Timeline: Common Symptoms to Expect
- Klonopin Detox: Withdrawal Symptoms and Recovery Timeline
- Heroin Detox: What You Need to Know