How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System? Opioid Detection Windows

Last Medical Review On: April 8, 2024
Updated On: April 8, 2024
5 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?
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    There are general guidelines for opioid detection, but each person’s biology and metabolism are unique. To determine how long opioids stay in your system, there are several physical and drug use factors to consider, including how much was taken, when it was last taken, the type of test that’s used for drug detection, and your metabolism.

    Opioids: What Are They and Why Are They Taken?

    Opioids usually refer to the class of drugs that includes prescription pain medications like codeine, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, and morphine and brand names like oxycodone (OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (Vicodin®). This drug category also includes drugs that are often used illegally, like heroin and fentanyl.

    These pain-relieving substances reduce the experience and feelings of pain. With these effects, they have a high potential for abuse and are classified as Schedule I (highest likelihood of abuse and addiction) to Schedule V controlled substances, depending on which one is taken.[1]

    All opioids are derived from a natural ingredient collected from poppy seeds. Also included in this category are opiates, which are naturally occurring substances that include morphine, codeine, and opium. Although both natural and synthetic opioids exist, all fall under the same drug scheduling classification.

    Opioid Abuse and Addiction: How Does It Take Shape?

    How does opioid addiction take shape?

    Opioids are powerful pain relievers that provide much relief for those who need them most. Opioids are prescribed to address physical or chronic pain that ranges from mild to severe, as well as pain related to cancer and other chronic illnesses.[2] However, due to their pain-relieving effects, the potential for abuse is high.

    The current state of opioid misuse and overdose has been classified as an official epidemic. It’s estimated that 3 million people in the U.S. and more than 16 million people around the world actively use or have used opioids throughout their lifetime.[3]

    In some cases, abuse begins with misusing rightfully prescribed narcotic painkillers but can escalate to illegal substances like heroin or illegal and unsafe use of other substances like fentanyl.[4]

    The Effects of Opioid Use

    Opioid use affects the natural processes of the brain by increasing the positive hormones. When opioids interact with the brain, the chemical compounds travel through the bloodstream and attach to opioid receptors. This causes a release of positive signals to the natural reward system that mimics pleasure or euphoria and dulls the perception of pain.[5]

    For many people, this process is essential for injury recovery, chronic illness management, or even surgical procedures. However, it can lead to misuse and dependence out of a mental or chemical desire to prolong the positive sensations. Long-term use can lead to a physical or chemical tolerance, which increases your body’s need for higher and higher doses or more frequent use of opioids to feel the same effects.

    Side Effects of Opioids

    Aside from the intended effects of opioids (pain relief, euphoria, etc.), there are several adverse side effects associated with opioid use that include:[6]

    • Lethargy
    • Slowed breathing
    • Constipation
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Pupil constriction (pin-point pupils)
    • Physical or chemical tolerance
    • Increased sensitivity to pain

    If you or a loved one have been prescribed painkillers and are experiencing any or all of these side effects, reach out to your doctor to discuss a new pain management path. Treating substance use disorder in a safe and supportive detox or rehab environment may also be a productive next step.

    How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?

    How long opioids stay in your system or can be detected will depend on the type of opioid taken, how much was administered, if there are other drugs on board, and your own metabolism. The medical community measures this by the half-life of a substance, which indicates how long it takes for opioid concentration to decrease in your system by half.

    It can take as many as 4-5 half-lives for a drug to be fully eliminated from the body. [7] Opioid substances also vary in terms of half-life duration. For fast-acting substances like remifentanil, it only takes approximately 0.6 hours, whereas methadone can take as long as 24 to 36 hours. [8]

    Breaking Down The Half-Life Of Common Opioids

    The longer the half-life, the longer one may experience the effects of the substance. Each opioid substance has a unique timeline for how long it will stay in your system. Here are half-life timelines for common opioids:

    Opioid Half-Life

    Opioid Substance Average Half-Life
    Codeine 2.9 hours[9]
    Fentanyl 3 to 7 hours[10]
    Heroin Less than 5 min[11]
    Hydrocodone 4 to 6 hours[12]
    Methadone 24 to 36 hours[13]
    Morphine 2 to 3 hours[14]
    Oxycodone 3 to 5 hours[15]
    Suboxone 25 to 70 hours[16]

    What Impacts How Long Opioids Stay In Your System?

    These half-lives are relatively short when compared to other substances. However, the substance is not the only factor that contributes to the timeline of opioids in your system. Other factors include: [17]

    • Type of drug test
    • Individual metabolism
    • Chemical properties of the substance
    • Drug administration (injected, swallowed, smoked, snorted, etc.)
    • Frequency of use
    • Dosage amount
    • Test reliability
    • Overall health (diet, weight, etc.)
    • Fluids in the system

    There is only one way to ensure negative results on a drug test, and that is to abstain. Even those who may be using prescription drugs as prescribed may still find themselves facing positive results from a drug test.

    Types of Opioid Drug Tests

    The different types of opioid drug screening methods tell a story. Drug test results can detect opioid use within the last 24 hours, which would indicate recent use, whereas a test that can look back several days or even weeks could indicate ongoing or long-term use.

    In most cases, drug tests are involuntary and required by employers, legal entities, or medical providers. These are the most common types of drug tests and their associated detection windows.

    • Blood Test: Blood samples can reveal drug use within the last 12-24 hours and are one of the only tests that can offer guaranteed, reliable results.[18]
    • Saliva Test: This test is not as reliable, but a positive test can detect opioid use within the last 12-24 hours.[19]
    • Urine Test: Urine drug testing is a noninvasive drug test that has a detection window of 1-3 days.[20] A urine sample takes a brief look back over several days and is usually used to determine medication or drug compliance.
    • Sweat Test: Testing perspiration is less common but has a drug detection time of up to 4 weeks after last use.[21]
    • Hair Test: Strands of hair can be tested to reveal drug use that occurred within the last 90 days and can offer a long-term picture of opioid or substance use.[22]

    Opioid Addiction Treatment

    Developing a tolerance or dependence on prescription opioids can create challenging obstacles in life, health, and overall well-being. But don’t be discouraged. There is hope for you or your loved one through professional treatment and support.

    From medication interventions and behavioral therapy to group accountability and hoping skill training, recovery, and sobriety are possible. You or your loved one can start fresh and regain balance with patient-focused, highly individualized treatment programs and holistic treatment methods.

    Our cutting-edge approach and high standards for care are executed through a multi-tiered offering that ranges from drug and alcohol detox and inpatient care to medically managed care for treating comorbid medical conditions. Moving beyond standard methods, evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Experiential Therapy, Relapse Prevention, and others create the core of all substance use disorder treatment.

    If you or a loved one are struggling with painkiller misuse or opioid addiction, reach out to a healthcare professional for practical support and clarity today.

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Opioids and Drug Tests


    What are the negative effects of opioids?


    Some of the common adverse side effects related to opioids include:[23]

    • Feeling lethargic
    • Slowed or depressed breathing
    • Constipation
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Pin-point pupils
    • Physical or chemical tolerance (Requiring more to feel the effects)
    • Increased sensitivity to pain

    What are the effects of long-term opioid use?


    In most cases, opioids aren’t meant for long-term use, and using them in any way other than exactly as prescribed can lead to dependence, constipation, bone fractures, breathing problems, tooth decay, enlarged organs, pain sensitivity, and a compromised immune system.[24]


    What are the symptoms of opioid withdrawal?


    Opioid withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe and cover both physical and psychological symptoms that include insomnia, cold flashes, diarrhea, vomiting, pain, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.[25]


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