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Heroin Detection Time—How Long Does Heroin Stay In The Body?

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

The amount of time heroin is detectable in the body depends on the type of test used to detect it and other factors. Treatment for heroin abuse, including medical detox, can help a person form a lasting recovery.

Heroin is an illegal opioid with no medical use and a high potential for abuse. It metabolizes quickly in the body and may be out of a person’s system within an hour. Immediately following use, a person may experience unpleasant side effects aside from the euphoria associated with the high, including:

  • dry mouth
  • intense itching sensation
  • nausea/vomiting
  • impaired mental function
  • warm flush of the skin
  • switching back and forth between conscious and unconscious states (referred to as “being on the nod”)

Its side effects last longer than cocaine or methamphetamines, but heroin has a shorter half-life of approximately 30 minutes. A drug’s half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be flushed from a person’s system. Even after heroin has been metabolized and the high has worn off, heroin can still be detected in a person’s system during drug testing.

Factors That Affect Heroin Detection Time

There are several factors that can affect heroin detection time, in addition to the type of test used. The following are the factors which most commonly affect heroin detection time:

  • amount taken: A larger dose or more frequent doses taken close together will increase the detection time.
  • height/weight: A person with a heavier build will metabolize heroin differently from a person of smaller stature. This holds true with most substance testing, as dosage will affect a person based on their weight and height.
  • age: As a person ages, detection time will lengthen because it takes a person longer to metabolize toxins as they age.
  • genetics: Some people will be genetically predisposed to quickly or slowly metabolize heroin, which will affect detection time.
  • overall health: As a person’s health deteriorates, whether due to heroin use or other environmental factors, detection time will increase and the drug will be detectable for longer.
  • history of use: As a person uses heroin more frequently, the drug can be stored in fatty tissue in addition to body fluids. With a history of use, detection time increases and the drug will be traced for longer periods of time.

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Drug Testing And Detection Time

The FDA-approved tests for heroin detection are blood, saliva, urine, and hair follicle tests. Each test detects heroin at different levels of sensitivity and efficiency. Newer tests are able to detect heroin metabolites, which are created when heroin is metabolized, or processed, in the liver. These stay in the system longer and can be detected for a greater period of time.

Types Of Drug Tests Used To Detect Heroin

Urine Test

A urine test will be administered to detect heroin and heroin metabolites. Most urine tests detect heroin up to two days following use, but some tests can detect the drug up to seven days later. Urine tests are often used when an individual is being more routinely monitored as they seek abstinence and recovery through a treatment program.

Urine tests are currently available that can isolate 6-Acetylmorphine (6-AM), a metabolite specific to heroin. This will allow tests sites to detect heroin use specifically, instead of just general opioid use, and can be a more definitive tool to identify heroin abuse or addiction.

Blood And Saliva Tests

Blood and saliva tests usually detect heroin up to five to six hours following use. These tests are used less frequently because of the short window of detection. Some blood and saliva tests may detect heroin up to two days after use, depending on the sensitivity of the test and how quickly the individual’s body metabolizes the heroin.

Hair Follicle Tests

Hair follicle testing is the only test that detects heroin after longer than a week and can be a good indicator of excessive heroin use. An individual would not be able to abstain for a few days in order to change their results on a hair follicle test because it can detect heroin up to three months following use.

This test is not always accurate in initial heroin detection (but can be used to establish a “baseline” for an individual seeking treatment), as it takes five to seven days for the toxin to appear in the hair follicle. It is also not as useful for routine monitoring because it cannot be used to accurately pinpoint the time of use.

Long-Term Heroin Use Affects Detection Time

Extended use of heroin affects the way a person’s body metabolizes the drug. The body first stores heroin in fluids, which can be quickly flushed out. However, long-term use leads to the drug being stored in fatty tissue. It takes the body longer to break down heroin once it is stored this way so the detection time will increase.

Long-term use also has medical consequences, which would alter detection time because the body is not functioning at full capacity. A person using heroin over time can experience constipation, gastrointestinal cramping, liver and kidney disease, and greater risk of transmittable diseases like HIV and hepatitis (when heroin is administered intravenously). In fact, it should be noted that extended heroin use leads to damage at administration sites.

Another contributing factor to increased heroin detection time is damage to the kidney and liver. Over time, repeated use can cause infections and death to patches of cells in these vital organs.

When Extended Heroin Use Becomes Addiction

As a person continues to use heroin, the body develops a tolerance to the drug. This causes a person to take larger or more frequent doses in order to reach the same high. This leads to greater dependency and stronger withdrawal symptoms, so a person will be bouncing between the euphoric sensation of a high and the intense sickness that comes with early (acute) withdrawal symptoms.

If a person begins to experience these symptoms or becomes worried about how to test clean after having used heroin, it may be time to seek help in treatment for heroin addiction.

Treatment And Recovery For Heroin Abuse And Addiction

There are many effective treatment options available, and a person does not have to overcome dependence alone. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), counseling, and behavioral therapy are proven effective ways to treat addiction.

If you are struggling with addiction to heroin, a treatment specialist can give you a confidential assessment to help you determine the best treatment to fit your needs.

National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. - Drug Facts: Heroin

Quest Diagnostics - Drug testing for heroin

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