What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a controlled substance in the United States, and the USDA classifies it as a Class-1 highly addictive drug. It is a plant-based but heavily manufactured and altered opioid drug derived from the poppy flower. Heroin is processed and cut with other substances before it gets to the consumer. Users of the drug typically smoke, snort or inject it intravenously. The immediate effects are feelings of euphoria and sedation.
Health Impacts of Heroin in Your System
Opiate addiction is a significant problem around the world and in recent years, opioid abuse has been on the climb, leading to numerous cases of overdose. These types of drugs have a negative impact on energy levels and sex drive as well as the weight and functions of major organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Most significant, however, is the effect of opiates on brain function. As this drug is used for its effects on brain chemistry, it can cause changes to the way your brain operates and how it sends and receives signals.
In fact, the biggest danger of heroin abuse results from the drug’s ability to block or alter signals in your brain that control important bodily functions. Emergencies from opioid abuse often stem from breathing difficulties associated with overdose. The reason for this is that heroin can change the chemistry of the brain stem and cause depressed breathing.
Parts of your brain control the basic functions of your body, such as breathing and the beating of your heart, so that you don’t have to think about it. Heroin can alter and interrupt these signals that are telling your body to do what it needs to do to survive.
Drug Testing in the USA
In the United States, drug testing is used in many different types of situations. This is a common reason people may ask how long drugs will stay in your system. Many employers require pre-hire drug testing, and some also perform random drug tests on their employees.
Types of Tests
There are several ways to test for opiates and other drugs in the human body. Depending on the type of test performed, heroin can show up on the tests results whether a person has used recently or been abstinent for some time. Here’s a closer look at some of the tests currently in use:
Blood tests are one of the best ways to test for substances in the body, such as prescription or illegal drugs. This is not the most common type of drug test used, however. Blood testing is sometimes used by law enforcement, but it’s most commonly utilized in emergency medicine. In fact, blood testing is rarely used for legal issues and more often for medical diagnostic purposes.
The invasive nature of this test has raised constitutional issues. Of course, blood testing involves taking blood from a person’s body, and this requires either consent or due process of law, including a court order. While blood tests are great for medical purposes to determine what is going on in the body right now, they are not ideal for detecting prior opioid use because opiates may not be picked up in the bloodstream if it’s only been a few hours after use.
The most common type of drug test used in the United States is the urinalysis test. This is the preferred method for employment testing and probation and parole testing. This is because it is a fast and reliable form of testing that is also far cheaper to perform than blood and hair tests. Additionally, there are fewer legal and constitutional concerns when using urinalysis.
Hair testing is not especially common, but it does have a significant history of use in the U.S., primarily in the court systems. This method does have one benefit over other methods: While blood and urine tests have a more limited time frame to work in, hair testing can detect drugs months after their use.
Testing of oral fluid is another somewhat common testing method for illegal and prescription drugs. This method involves using a cheek swab to collect a sample of saliva and other oral fluids. The test works much the same as a blood or urine test and detects the same content as other forms of testing.
The issue with saliva testing is that it can be a less reliable method due to medical conditions or drug side effects that may cause dry mouth. If a good sample can’t be collected, then the test will fail. In certain instances, the very drug being tested for can cause side effects that will negate the saliva test. This type of test isn’t typically the first choice when it comes to heroin detection.
In science, half-life refers to the time it takes for a substance to be reduced by half, either by decay or through elimination within the human body. In medicine, half-life is used in formulas to determine proper doses and duration for treatment. For example, an antibiotic would have to be administered at a certain dose and frequency to ensure that antibodies remain present long enough to effectively fight the bacteria or infection.
The half-life of a drug determines how long the substance will be present and detectable in your body. If you are not a chemistry person, the concept can seem confusing, but it is fairly simple. Essentially, different substances take longer to clear from your body than others.
On one hand, there is the time it takes for the substance to be cleared to the extent that you no longer feel the effects of the drug, and on the other hand, the time it takes for it to not be detectable by tests. As an example, you could take a medication for pain and at the end of its half-life, you may feel your pain return and no longer feel the effects of the drug. However, a blood test would still show the presence of pain medication.
Variables to How Long Heroin Will Stay in Your System
When people ask how long a particular drug will remain in their system, it is not a simple answer that is the same for everyone. The best answer is always going to be a range because not all people are the same and not all drug mixtures are the same. Below are some of the many factors to take into consideration when asking how long a drug will be detectable in your system.
Your age has a lot to do with your metabolism and the way your body processes substances you take in. An older person with a slower metabolism may show the presence of a drug longer than a younger person with a fast metabolism. Additionally, a person who has not yet reached full maturity may process the drug at a different rate than an adult. This is one reason that addiction in youth is of particular concern.
It stands to reason that weight would be a factor in the half-life of heroin and other drugs. Doses for medication are often based on weight. The reason for this is that the dose may need to be larger to have the intended effect on a larger person while a smaller person may get stronger effects from a drug at a smaller dose.
Body fat plays a role in how your body metabolizes what you put into it and how it breaks substances down. Excessive body fat impacts circulation, digestion, and liver and kidney function.
Hydration plays a key role in removing toxins from your body. Good hydration is very effective in reducing the duration of time that drugs can be detected in urine. Using water to clean the urine is so effective that many people will drink large quantities of water in an attempt to pass a drug test. However, many tests will count clear urine as an automatic fail on the assumption that the subject was trying to falsify the results.
This is one of the biggest variables in determining both the effect of the drug and how long it remains in your system. The fact that heroin is an illegal drug means that supplies are not checked for quality or held to an FDA standard. When using black market products, there is little way to know the purity and strength of the drug itself.
As drugs like cocaine and heroin are cut with other substances, the actual volume of the drug can vary. Think of it in the same way as proof in alcohol terminology. A 4% ABV will have a different effect on your body than a 90% grain alcohol. Similarly, heroin of low purity will break down in your body faster than a higher concentration.
One individual may process heroin in a different way depending on personal health issues. A diabetic, for example, will break things down in the body in different ways and at different rates. A person with blood and circulation issues may also take longer to clear the drug from their body.
The effect of a particular drug can have a lot to do with a person’s history of use. Consider that a dose for a first-time user may have a much stronger impact than the same dose for someone who has dealt with addiction for many years. One component of drug abuse is the perceived need for more and more as time goes on. Unfortunately, this is what leads to many overdoses.
While a lifelong user may process the drug differently, the bigger issue is their likely increased dosage. If a person is consuming higher and higher amounts to try and get a certain high, the volume in their body will likely take longer to process through the system.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?
Taking all of the above into account, we are talking about a drug with a very short half-life. In most cases, it will be undetectable in urine after only a couple of days. Blood and saliva tests are especially poor testing methods for heroin. In fact, testing blood and oral fluids may yield a negative result within only five to six hours of taking the drug. The most effective test available for detecting drug use over time is hair follicle testing, which has been reported to detect heroin in the body for up to three months after the last use.
So, when considering how long the drug stays in your system, the answer really depends on the test. You can think of two days and up to three months as the two extremes. However, most tests will only be able to detect heroin in your system for a period of two to seven days.