Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System, Body and Blood?
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: April 21, 2022

The United States is struggling with an opioid epidemic; roughly 10.1 million Americans have misused opioids at least once over a 12-month period. Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs available, yet it is also one of the most commonly abused in the United States. Roughly 1 million people have reported using heroin within the last year.

Heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance, as it has no medicinal use and a high potential for abuse and addiction. Despite regulations from the drug enforcement administration, the number of opioid-related deaths rises each year. Knowing the risks of using heroin and how long it stays in your system could help prevent overdose in you or a loved one.

What Are the Effects of Heroin Use?

Heroin enters the body very quickly and rapidly reduces pain sensations, breathing rate, and heart rate. When heroin enters the body it is metabolized into morphine and 6-acetyl morphine and quickly binds to opioid receptors. This chemical process creates an intense rush of dopamine which produces a euphoric feeling that is both intoxicating and addictive. The speed at which heroin enters the brain alters how intense the rush will be, which is why some users inject the drug as opposed to smoking it. As the rush of dopamine is much stronger than a person receives naturally, an individual may quickly develop a strong desire to replicate this pleasurable feeling, often resulting in substance abuse problems and heroin addiction.

Heroin euphoria is a feeling often described by those who use heroin as a wave of intense pleasure and joy. In addition to the euphoric rush, users usually experience a dry mouth, a rush of warmth to the skin, and their extremities begin to feel heavy. On occasion, heroin consumption will cause nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.

As a result of the way that heroin affects the central nervous system, users can feel drowsy for several hours. During this time heart rate and breathing can slow down, and if too much heroin is taken, the heart rate can slow to a potentially deadly pace.

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Additional Dangers of Heroin Use

In addition to the risk of respiratory depression and potential addiction, heroin use brings a range of dangers. Due to the fact that heroin is an illicit substance, there is no way for users to check the strength or contents of the drugs that they have bought. Heroin is manufactured illegally and therefore varies in strength and purity. Heroin is often cut with other substances including baking soda or the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is much more powerful than pure heroin. In recent years, there have been increasing reports of incidents in which heroin was mixed with fentanyl, resulting in a significant increase in overdose deaths across the United States.

In addition, people who have unknowingly become used to highly heroin that has been heavily diluted with baking soda may unexpectedly use heroin that has not been so diluted. Taking a much higher dose than intended in this way can result in an overdose.

How long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

One way of measuring how long heroin stays in your body is to understand the drug's half-life. The half-life of a substance refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the concentration of the drug - or half of the dose taken - to be processed by the body into metabolic by-products. With heroin, the half-life can also be a helpful estimate of when withdrawal symptoms may begin.

It takes four to five half-lives for a substance to be eliminated from a person's system. Compared to other drugs, heroin has a particularly short half-life of two to six minutes, and is metabolized to 6-acetyl morphine and morphine.

The half-life of morphine is one and a half hours to seven hours and the half-life of 6-acetyl morphine is as short as six to 25 minutes. This means that if an individual consumes a single dose of heroin, it will take around 30 minutes for half of the drug to have left their system.

However, several factors can influence how long the drug lingers in the body, including:

  • Age
  • Metabolic rate
  • Genetics
  • Diet and hydration
  • Metabolic rate

How long is Heroin Detectable in Drug Tests?

More advanced drug tests screen for heroin metabolites due to the fact that the metabolites linger in the body much longer than the heroin itself. The window for detecting heroin in the body depends on the method of drug testing.

Urine Test

A urine test is a standard drug test for most addiction facilities and workplaces. Urine tests are a non-invasive, widely available, and low-cost method for detecting heroin. Heroin metabolites can be detected in a standard urine test for one to four days after the last dose is taken. This window could be longer in cases of chronic heroin addiction.

Blood Tests

A blood test is much less commonly used to test for heroin because blood tests are highly invasive, time-consuming, and expensive. However, blood tests are used following traffic accidents or overdoses to detect recent heroin use. Blood tests only detect heroin within the last few hours of the last dose.

Hair Tests

Heroin is detectable in hair follicle tests for up to three months, but people who have been using heroin for extended periods of time may have a much longer hair test detection window.

Heroin Overdose

One of the most important reasons to be aware of how long heroin remains in the system is to avoid accidental overdose. It is incredibly dangerous to take more heroin when you feel like the effects of the last dose have worn off: if the drug is still in your system this could result in a potentially fatal overdose. Opioids are the most deadly type of drug, causing 67.8% of drug overdose deaths in the US each year.

Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Addiction

There is a significant correlation between heroin use and co-morbid anxiety and depression. Research shows that heroin users often abuse opioids to help them cope with the symptoms of mental health conditions, especially in cases when adequate mental health support is unavailable. Drug abuse often goes hand in hand with physical or mental illness. In many cases, prescription painkiller misuse can lead to heroin addiction with around 80% of heroin users first abusing prescription opioids.

A substance use disorder can develop rapidly, often making people feel out of control. Taking opioids for a period longer than 3 months increases the risk of addiction 15 times, but it is important to remember that there is help available.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

At Cornerstone, we offer a range of therapeutic approaches to addiction and mental health issues. We understand that every person has a unique set of requirements and that care should be personally tailored to each individual.

Cornerstone offers a range of heroin addiction treatment options in addition to dual diagnosis treatment to help you overcome mental health conditions that may accompany your heroin addiction. We make use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Art Therapy, mindfulness, and many other diverse approaches to help you heal from the mental health issues that may fuel heroin addiction.

We offer inpatient medical detox options to help you safely and successfully manage heroin withdrawal symptoms and decrease the chances of relapse.

Contact us to speak to a professional treatment provider today and learn more about our tailored treatment programs.