How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?

medicine capsules containing opiate prescription drugs

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

With that in mind, we’ve written this piece to 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 natural or man-made drugs that act on opioid receptors in the brain. A more traditional definition is that opiates are the natural alkaloids found in opium poppy resin, including morphine and codeine. However, the term has colloquially branched out to 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 specific 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 want to abuse drugs. For example, opiates can cause:

  • A sense of wellbeing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Feeling relaxed and calm.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Tingly feelings.
  • Weight loss.

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:

  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Constipation.
  • Fainting.
  • Hives, itching, or a rash.
  • Irregular menstrual periods.
  • Loss of interest in sex or in sexual ability.
  • Nervousness.
  • Overdose.
  • Seizures.
  • Shakiness.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Weakness.

How and why do people test for opiates?

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

  • After an accident.
  • Pre-employment.
  • Random workplace testing.
  • To allow you to return to work.

Various things may be tested, such as urine, blood, saliva, and hair.

How long do opiates stay in your system?

The half-life for opiates can range from 1-9 hours, depending on how much you take and which type. For instance, the half-life of morphine is 1.5-6.5 hours, the half-life of codeine is 1-4 hours, and the half-life of hydrocodone is 3.5-9 hours The amount of time that opiates can be detected in your system relies on the type of test.

  • 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 3 days.
  • Blood tests can detect morphine for up to 6-8 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 7-10 days after use and for up to 90 days.
  • Saliva tests can detect opiates within 5-10 minutes of use and for up to 24-36 hours.

We should note that eating a great deal of poppy seed baked goods can cause morphine to be excreted in urine 6-12 hours after ingestion — even though, due to first-pass metabolism, you don’t receive any of the side effects of morphine. If you’re due for a urine screening, choose a blueberry muffin or plain bagel instead.

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, have both been effective for opiate abuse.
  • Rehab can help you through the detox process, but it can also provide you with the long-term skills you need to combat your substance use disorder 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 24/7 for somewhere between 6-12 months.
  • Medication-assisted therapy. Methadone is an opioid medication that does not provide the euphoria of other opiates, so it can be used more safely without subjecting you to side-effects of opiates or symptoms of withdrawal. One dose lasts 24-36 hours. Buprenorphine can also be used for this purpose. You take it less often than methadone —three times a week— and there are little to no side effects as well. However, it is less similar to opiates than methadone is, so if you can tolerate it as a substitute, this can free up methadone clinics for people who truly need them.

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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How Long Do Opiates Stay in Your System?
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