How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?

medicine capsules containing opiate prescription drugs

Most opiates are Schedule II drugs, meaning that while they have legitimate medical purposes, they also have a high potential for abuse.

The information below can help you learn more about these medications, their potential dangers and how to get help for an opiate use disorder if you or a loved one develop one.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are the natural alkaloids found in opium poppy resin, including morphine and codeine. However, the more common term opioid encompasses both naturally occurring opiates and synthetic, or man-made opioid drugs that are derived from morphine. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are naturally occurring opiates. Opioids include synthetic drugs that are structurally similar to opiates, such as hydrocodone.

Why Do People Use and Abuse Opiates?

Opiates are used primarily as pain relievers, but some opiates have specific purposes. For instance:

  • Morphine is a narcotic analgesic used for moderate to severe pain
  • Codeine is used for pain and as a cough medicine
  • Hydrocodone is also used for pain and in some cough medicines

However, some of the side effects of opiates can be pleasurable for people, even those who wouldn’t normally misuse drugs. For example, opiates can cause:

  • A sense of wellbeing
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling relaxed and calm
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tingly feelings

What Problems Can Come From Opiate Abuse?

When you use opiates for a long time, especially when you don’t take them as prescribed, they can become habit-forming and you may find yourself with a physical or psychological dependence on them. If abused for long enough, you could end up with a substance use disorder.

Also, opiate abuse can lead to side effects that people find less appealing, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Overdose
  • Slow breathing
  • Weakness

How and Why Do People Test for Opiates?

Testing can take place in many places and under a variety of circumstances, including:

  • If a physician requires it
  • If it is necessary for insurance purposes
  • After an accident
  • Pre-employment
  • Random workplace testing
  • To allow you to return to work

How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?

The half-life for opiates can range from one to nine hours. For instance, the half-life of immediate-release morphine is two to four hours, the half-life of codeine is three hours, and the half-life of hydrocodone formulated with acetaminophen is four hours. The amount of time that opiates can be detected in your system relies on the type of test.

Since all opioids are different, the data below reflects opioids in general, although specific drugs may vary. For example, hydrocodone is not detectable in saliva until 12 hours after the last use.

  • Urine tests can detect codeine for up to 48 hours. Morphine can be detected for 48-72 hours. Hydrocodone can be detected for up to three days.
  • Blood tests can detect morphine for up to six to eight hours in your blood. Codeine can be detected for 12 hours. Hydrocodone can be detected for up to 24 hours.
  • Hair tests can detect opiates within seven to 10 days after use and for up to 90 days.
  • Saliva tests can detect opiates within five to 10 minutes of use and for up to 24-36 hours.

What Sort of Treatment Is Available for Opiate Abuse?

There are many ways to approach recovery, such as:

  • 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can provide you support from people who know your particular struggle.
  • Behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps increase your coping skills and contingency management, which gives you vouchers or items in exchange for negative drug tests, are both effective.
  • Rehab can help you through the detox process, but it can also provide you with the long-term skills you need after the rehab process is finished. Keep in mind that research shows that most people require at least three months of treatment to achieve a significant reduction in drug use or complete sobriety. The best treatment model is the long-term therapeutic community, where people receive care for somewhere between six to 12 months.
  • Medication-assisted therapy uses methadone, an opioid medication that does not provide the euphoria of other opiates, so it can be used without subjecting people to side effects of opiates or symptoms of withdrawal. One dose lasts 24-36 hours. Buprenorphine and a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone can also be used for this purpose.

Keep in mind that the most effective way to deal with a substance use disorder is to combine different kinds of therapies. Whichever method works best for you is ultimately right.

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Drug and Alcohol Information and Support. “How long do drugs stay in your system?” (n.d.) Accessed 26 December 2016.

MedlinePlus. “Hydrocodone Combination Products.” Last revised in January 2019. Accessed 26 December 2016.

HealthPartners. “Interpretation of Opiate Urine Drug Screens.” Published in 2008. Accessed 26 December 2016.

Mayo Clinic. “Morphine (Oral Route).” Published on 1 January 2016. Accessed 26 December 2016.

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How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?
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