Drug tests can measure heroin in saliva, blood, urine, and hair for different lengths of time. In a new mother, heroin can pass through breast milk and harm the baby.
Heroin (diamorphine) is a semi-synthetic opioid that is used as a recreational drug. All opioid drugs work similarly interacting with mu opioid receptors in the central nervous system, which reduces the perception of pain and enhances the feeling of well-being.
Certain factors, such as the length of time used and the person’s weight, can affect how long heroin stays in the system. Further, different types of drug tests are able to detect heroin use for varying amounts of time, depending on the test type.
Article at a Glance:
There are a few key points to remember about heroin and drug tests:
- Heroin can be detected in saliva, blood, urine, and hair.
- Factors like body weight, length of addiction and liver health can affect detection times.
- Heroin and its metabolites pass through breast milk and can cause a baby to overdose. Do not breastfeed while using heroin.
Heroin Showing Up on Drug Tests
When heroin enters the body, it is rapidly broken down into other substances called metabolites. The half-life of heroin in blood is about three minutes. Because it takes around five half-lives for the body to get rid of a drug, heroin itself will be undetectable in the blood after about 15 minutes. However, heroin’s metabolites have longer half-lives, meaning they can be detected for much longer. These metabolites include morphine as well as 6-acetylmorphine (6-MAM).
6-MAM is a metabolite that is unique to heroin. Drug tests will test for 6-MAM to confirm heroin use specifically, as opposed to the use of other opioids. The half-life of 6-MAM is 30 minutes, so it stays in the system for around 150 minutes — much longer than its parent drug, heroin.
Heroin can be detected in the urine for up to 48 hours after the last dose. This is mainly due to the presence of its metabolite morphine. A drug urine test is the most common method of screening for drugs, including heroin. Urine testing is relatively easy, cheap and safe, and many entities will choose this method.
Commercial hair drug-testing kits take about a half-inch of hair from the scalp. How long heroin can be detected will depend on how fast the hair grows. For most people, heroin use is detectable in the hair sample for around 90 days.
Blood tests are not commonly used for heroin. This is because both heroin and 6-MAM have such short half-lives.
Heroin shows up in the saliva within two minutes of administration. When smoking heroin, saliva concentration is higher than blood concentration for up to 60 minutes. Afterward, it decreases to the same as blood concentration.
Like blood tests for heroin, a saliva test is not very useful because of how fast the drug metabolizes.
People who are using heroin should not breastfeed their children because heroin passes into the breast milk. The baby will be exposed to heroin in the breast milk, creating the risk of an overdose. Further, if heroin use ends after the baby has been exposed, the baby can go through withdrawal.
Heroin itself breaks down so quickly in the body that it is generally not detected in drug tests. Instead, tests screen for heroin’s breakdown products — 6-MAM and morphine.
6-MAM is unique to heroin, meaning that drugs other than heroin do not break down to form this product. As a result, false positives for 6-MAM are practically unheard of. Morphine is another heroin byproduct that is detectable in drug tests. False positives for morphine can occur through recent ingestion of poppy seeds.
Factors That Affect How Long Heroin Stays in the System
Different factors can impact how long heroin stays in the body, including:
- Body mass: Overweight people have heroin and 6-MAM in their system longer than people with less body fat.
- Drug interactions with prescription and non-prescription drugs: Certain drugs share the same metabolic enzymes as heroin. Heroin may compete with other drugs, making heroin and 6-MAM stick around longer for drug test detection.
- Length of addiction: People who are exposed to heroin less frequently will clear the drug from their system more quickly than those who are exposed on a regular basis.
- Liver problems: Heroin is converted into its breakdown products in the liver. For this reason, a person with liver abnormalities may process heroin differently than a person with a healthy liver. This makes it more difficult to predict how long heroin can be detected in the body.
How Does Weight Affect Heroin Detection
Similar to many other drugs, weight and body mass can increase the amount of time heroin is detected. Drug tests will detect heroin and 6-MAM longer in people who weigh more because the drugs will release slowly into the bloodstream. High body fat may extend the window of heroin detection by several days.
- Small pupils
- Slowed or shallow breathing
- Clammy skin
- Bluish-colored nails and skin
A heroin overdose is a medical emergency that can have fatal outcomes. If you have the opioid reversal agent naloxone available, you should administer it immediately and then call 911.
How to Get Heroin Out of Your System
The only way to get heroin out of your system is to stop using the drug, which gives your body time to metabolize and remove it. Quitting suddenly can result in uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, so consult your doctor about treatment options. Professional help from an inpatient or outpatient program may be needed.
If you need to get heroin out of your system because you think you’ve taken too much and are at risk of overdose, seek medical help immediately. Heroin overdose symptoms include:
- Slow and shallow breathing
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Clammy skin
Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone, contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.
Getting Help for Heroin Addiction
During heroin detox, the body eliminates and metabolizes heroin. Detox and withdrawal can be uncomfortable and difficult, so many people seek out professional detox programs when deciding to quit heroin. Additionally, attempting to go “cold turkey” or quit without medical assistance can be dangerous.
If you or someone you love is ready to find treatment for heroin addiction, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our helpful representatives are always available to speak with you about treatment programs that can help you begin a healthier, heroin-free life. Contact us today to learn more.
Bautista, Josef Edrik Keith; Merhi, Basma; Gregory, Oliver; et al. “Heroin crystal nephropathy.” Clinical Kidney Journal, March 31, 2015. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Cone, Edward J.; Huestis, Marilyn A. “Interpretation of Oral Fluid Tests for Drugs of Abuse.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, March 1, 2007. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Drugs and Lactation Database. “Heroin.” July 19, 2021. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Goodnough, Abby. “Overdose Deaths Have Surged During the Pandemic, C.D.C. Data Shows.” The New York Times, September 27, 2021. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Gryczynski, Jan; Schwartz, Robert P; Mitchell, Shannon D; et al. “Hair Drug Testing Results and Self-reported Drug Use among Primary Care Patients with Moderate-risk Illicit Drug Use.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, May 17, 2014. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Hallare, Jericho; Gerriets, Valerie. “Half Life.” StatPearls, October 6, 2020. Accessed October 3, 2021.
HealthPartners. “Interpretation of Opiate Urine Drug Screens.” Accessed October 3, 2021.
Keary, Christopher J.; Wang, Ying; Moran, Jonathan R.; et al. “Toxicologic Testing for Opiates: Understanding False-Positive and False-Negative Test Results.” July 26, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What effects does heroin have on the body?” June 2021. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Oelhaf, Robert C.; Azadfard, Mohammadreza. “Heroin Toxicity.” StatPearls, May 19, 2021. Accessed October 3, 2021.
Smith, Howard S. “Opioid metabolism.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, July 2009. Accessed October 14, 2021.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Heroin Overdose.” MedlinePlus, October 5, 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.