What to Know About a Heroin Urine Test

There are some different reasons a person may be expected to undergo a drug test. For example, as part of a drug treatment program, when applying for a new job, or it could be part of probation or parole following an arrest. There are also potential medical reasons a person might have to undergo a drug test. A drug test could be something a family member or loved one requests. So, what about a heroin urine test? What should you know, and how long does heroin stay in your system?

What to Know About a Heroin Urine Test
Heroin is a dangerous, illegal and extremely addictive drug. It can be snorted, smoked or, most commonly, injected, and it belongs to a class of drugs known as opioids. Other opioids include prescription pain relievers. This class of drugs is front and center on the national stage right now in the U.S. The U.S. is in the middle of an opioid epidemic. It’s not uncommon to see stories in the news every day of people overdosing and dying from heroin and other opioids.

So why are these drugs so problematic? One of the biggest reasons is they are so intensely addictive. People report becoming addicted after using heroin only one time in many cases. Opioids also impact certain receptors in the central nervous system that slow respiration. When someone overdoses, their breathing can slow to a dangerous level, or stop altogether.

The effects of heroin are very short-lived, and a high occurs quickly, especially when the drug is injected. When someone uses heroin, it begins affecting their brain almost immediately. They’ll feel a euphoric high for just a few minutes. Following that, most users begin to feel very drowsy, relaxed and even sedated. That’s why it’s not uncommon for heroin users to be seen nodding off, even in strange places or at odd times.

The half-life of heroin is similarly brief. In most heroin users, the half-life is only about thirty minutes. When a person takes heroin, it takes around thirty minutes for half the amount of drug taken to leave the system. In some people, the half-life can be as short as three minutes. Many individual factors play a role in how long heroin stays in the system of the person taking the drug, and these can impact a heroin urine test as well. For example, the size, age, and body weight of the person play a role, as can things like how healthy and functional their kidneys and liver are.

People tend to wonder if a standard five-panel urine test will detect if heroin is present in the system. It can, but it doesn’t have to. A five-panel urine test is standard for drug testing for employees. These standard five-panel tests may show if someone has used opioids of any kind recently, but it won’t specifically show heroin. This can be problematic because in some cases a person being drug tested could blame the positive results on prescribed pain medication. There are also standard cut-off levels for these urine tests. Dependent on these cut-offs, heroin use might not show up at all.

Heroin is very quickly metabolized, and it’s not usually excreted via urine in any significant amount, so rather than a standard urine test for heroin, it can be better to use a test that looks at certain metabolites left behind by heroin. A five-panel urine test will show only one metabolite, which is morphine and that’s present in many other legal drugs.

With heroin, there are specific metabolites which include not only morphine but also one called 6-acetylmorphine. Because of the problems in detecting heroin with a standard five-panel urine test, there is more of a push for employers and other entities to use a 6-AM test. The use of this heroin-specific test is the standard guideline outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation. With a 6-AM-specific test, it’s possible not just to determine that there is a metabolite left behind by heroin, but it’s also easier to detect in urine.

Heroin is a drug that has a very short half-life, so it only stays in the system of the user for a brief period. Because of this, testing for heroin can be difficult, and a standard five-panel urine test isn’t likely to show heroin use. It may show opioid use, but with just a five-panel test, there’s no way to determine if the drug taken was heroin, or something legal.

Since heroin is so rapidly metabolized, a better heroin urine test looks for a specific metabolite that’s left behind. Even so, that specific metabolite may only be detectable for up to eight hours after a person uses heroin. A heroin urine test is the most common way to test for this drug because of the short half-life of the drug. Blood and saliva tests don’t work well with drugs that have a short half-life. Compared to a heroin urine test, the only other option that could show the use of heroin for a longer window of time is a hair follicle test. There are problems with this method including many factors that can affect the results. A hair test is also considered an inefficient and time-consuming way to check for drugs.

If you or a loved one could be struggling with substance use disorder involving heroin or other drugs, we invite you to contact our compassionate and well-trained team at The Recovery Village. Even if you just have questions you’d like answered, we’re here and ready to help in any way we can.

What to Know About a Heroin Urine Test
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