Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Key Takeaways

Heroin may be detectable in the system for up to seven days, depending on the drug test used. On the other hand, some people may eliminate opioids from their systems in as few as two days or less.

Heroin has a relatively short half-life of three to six minutes. During this period, the body breaks down heroin into morphine and 6-acetylmorphine. Because of how fast heroin is metabolized, most drug tests identify these two compounds rather than heroin itself.

The half-life of morphine is two to seven hours, whereas 6-acetylmorphine has a half-life of up to 25 minutes. It takes several half-lives for a substance to leave the body entirely.3,8

How Heroin is Detected in Your Body

The detection timeline of heroin varies depending on the drug testing method used. 

Below are the typical tests for heroin detection:

Urine

Urine testing is the most common technique for detecting drugs in someone’s system. A urine test may detect heroin in a person’s system up to three days after the last time they used it. Urine testing is simple, inexpensive, and safe; many institutions use it. 

Saliva

A saliva test can detect heroin in the saliva within two minutes of ingestion. For around 30 minutes after smoking heroin, saliva concentration is higher than blood concentration. 

It then drops to the same level as blood concentration. Because of how quickly heroin metabolizes, saliva tests aren’t as helpful as blood tests.

Hair

Hair tests can identify drug usage for more extended periods than other tests. Depending on hair length and frequency of use, a hair follicle test can detect heroin in the body system for up to 90 days after the last use.

Blood

Blood samples indicate how much of a particular drug is present in the body when the sample is collected. Because heroin exits the body so quickly, blood tests aren’t often used to determine if a person has used the drug. 

Depending on the delivery route, it may take as little as five hours for the drug to become undetectable in body fluids.

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Factors That Influence How Long Heroin Stays in Your System

The length of time heroin remains in the body varies from person to person. Here are the factors that influence how long heroin remains in the body:

Liver and Kidney Function

Heroin is metabolized mainly in the liver. In this case, heroin will remain in the body longer if the liver is impaired. Although the kidneys metabolize significantly less heroin, individuals with poor renal function may have difficulty clearing it from their system.

Amount Consumed

With moderate usage, heroin will only persist in the body for one or two days, but with heavy, chronic use, a urine test can detect it after almost a week.

Drug Quality

Because heroin is illegal, there is minimal uniformity in its purity. Some dosages may be purer and more potent, lengthening the time needed to expel the drug. The rate at which heroin is metabolized may also be affected by interactions with other drugs.

Overall Health

Individuals who are generally unhealthy or have weakened immune systems may take longer to clear heroin from their systems.

Age

Older individuals may take longer to clear heroin from their systems due to age-related metabolism and organ function changes.

Height and Weight

Height and weight can also influence how long heroin remains in the body. Generally, individuals with higher body mass indexes (BMI) may take longer to clear the drug from their systems. 

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Does the Type of Administration Affect Heroin Detection Time?

Yes. How heroin is administered (e.g., through injection, snorting, or smoking) affects specific tests’ detection time. 

For instance, injected heroin is detectable in the body using a saliva test within an hour, whereas smoked heroin is detectable for up to five hours.

What is Heroin? 

Heroin is a highly addictive, Schedule 1 narcotic derived from morphine. Morphine is a psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical extracted from the resin of the opium poppy plant.1 

Street names for heroin include:

  • Smack
  • Brown
  • Horse
  • Dope
  • Junk 

Heroin is an opioid in the same category as prescription pain-relieving medication, such as oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone. Heroin use for leisure has become more prevalent over the past years due to people misusing prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.2 

People addicted to prescription medications often switch to heroin because it produces similar effects and is easily accessible on the streets.7

How Does Heroin Affect the Body?

Heroin is highly addicting due to its potency. Even those who have only used the substance a few times may become reliant and addicted. 

Heroin use has adverse short- and long-term effects on a person’s health. It also alters how the brain functions. 

Short-term effects of heroin may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded thinking
  • A temporary feeling of happiness
  • Warm flushing skin
  • Nausea
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Coma or dangerously slowed breathing (if mixed with alcohol)

Long-term effects of heroin include: 

  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Nose tissue damage for those who sniff or snort (such as a perforated nasal septum)
  • Heart infection
  • Stomach discomfort and constipation
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung problems
  • Mental health issues such as depression
  • Sexual problems in men
  • Altered menstrual cycle in women

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) may occur if a person uses heroin during pregnancy. When heroin crosses into the placenta and reaches the fetus during pregnancy, the infant becomes dependent.4

A person who takes heroin for a short time is in danger of overdosing. This is because heroin directly affects the neurochemical activity in the brain that controls breathing and heart rate.5 

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Symptoms of Heroin Use & Addiction

The symptoms of heroin addiction vary depending on the following:

  • Quantity of substance taken
  • Frequency of use
  • Your drug dependence 

The following are some of the most frequent signs and symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Uncontrolled cravings for the drug
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lying about drug use
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Scabs or bruises due to picking at the skin
  • Decreased attention to personal hygiene
  • Possession of syringes, burnt spoons, glass pipes, and shoelaces
  • Neglecting school/home/work responsibilities
  • Apathy and lack of motivation
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Extreme itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Constricted or small pupils

If you have observed the symptoms above, get professional help as soon as possible.

Treatment Options for Heroin Use & Addiction

Many different treatment programs are available to treat heroin addiction. They are tailored to the specific needs of each drug user seeking assistance and support to reclaim control of their lives. 

Some standard treatment options include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment is the safest and most successful method to break a physical heroin addiction. It involves using medications such as methadone and buprenorphine to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 

Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs provide a safe, supportive environment for individuals to recover from heroin addiction. These programs are tailored to the individual’s needs and may include counseling, group therapy, and other forms of support.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and modify unhealthy behaviors. You can use it to treat heroin addiction by assisting individuals in recognizing triggers, developing coping skills, and building healthier relationships.

Support Groups

Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences and learn from others. They can be an invaluable resource for those recovering from heroin addiction.

Summary

Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive drug that can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health. It's essential to seek professional help immediately if you or someone you care about is addicted to heroin. Different treatment options are available to help you break the addiction.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Heroin.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  2. Prescription Pain Medications (Opioids).” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  3. Perekopskiy, D., Kiyatkin, EA. “6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM), Not Morphine, Is Responsible for the Rapid Neural Effects Induced by Intravenous Heroin.” ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 2019.
  4. How does heroin use affect pregnant women?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  5. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  6. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).” Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior.
  7. Heroin use is driven by its low cost and high availability.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  8. Opiates.” Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

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