What Determines How Long Opioids Remain

The amount of time that opioids stay in your system is determined by a number of factors, including the specific opioid, the amount of that opioid that was consumed, the individual’s history of opioid use, the individual’s medical history, weight, gender, and others. However, there are some general guidelines that can be used to determine how long an opioid will be detectable in the body.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs most commonly known for their pain killing effects. Doctor’s often prescribe opioids to help mitigate mild, moderate, and severe pain from cancer, operation recovery, and other forms of chronic pain. Their effectiveness in fighting pain has led to a boom in opioid prescriptions in the 2000s.

Though effective, opioids are equally well known for their addictive nature, and an unchecked use of these drugs could lead to a serious dependency. Opioids also include illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl, which are many times more powerful than their prescription counterparts. Once taken, opioids can spend varying amounts of time in your system.

Factors that Influence How Long Opioids Stay In Your System

  • How much was taken
  • Weight
  • Speed of metabolism
  • The dose taken regularly
  • The method of administration
  • Presence of other drugs in the body
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Medical conditions affecting drug elimination
  • Gender

Opioid Effect Timespan

Different opioids react similarly with your body’s receptors, but the length of time their effects remain active can change. In pharmacology (the study of drug effects) these times are measured by elimination half-life, which is the amount of time it takes your body to metabolize and remove half of the original dose of the drug. It generally takes 5 half-lives to remove a drug from the body.

There are 3 classifications of opioid half-life: long-acting, short-acting, and rapid-onset. Medical staff take these durations into account when prescribing opioids. If the pain is chronic, a long-acting opioid may be the most effective at minimizing pain for large periods of time. Conversely, if the patient has breakthrough pain (acute pain overcoming current medication), then a dual prescription of long-acting and short-acting opioids may help them manage the pain response more effectively.



Oxycontin, methadone, Butrans



Codeine, morphine, hydrocodone



Intranasal fentanyl, sublingual fentanyl

Opioids In Your System

The length of time opioids stay in the body depends on a variety of factors. The amount of drugs taken at once, level of habitual use, weight of the person tested, and speed of metabolism can all affect the window of time when testing for opioids. The following averages are based on the amount of time a urine test could detect their presence.

Detecting Opioid Use

Drug testing is most commonly a precaution employers take in order to ensure a prospective employee will be productive and reliable. Drug testing is also commonly used in workmen’s compensations cases, parole, child custody disputes, competitive athletics, and in some other cases. Contrary to popular stereotypes, not all tests sample urine or look for the same drugs. Some testing methods can detect drug use from long before the test date.

Urine Testing

Stereotypes have some basis in fact, and it is true that this test is by far the most common. As the body metabolizes different substances, the byproducts are often passed through the kidneys and into urine for disposal. These byproducts are specific to each drug and this test can identify those byproducts that end up in urine.

Saliva Testing

Saliva testing is often chosen due to its less invasive nature, but its window for accurately detecting drug use is much smaller than urine testing. Unless drugs are consumed within several hours of testing, the test may not identify their presence accurately.

Hair Testing

Like the urine test, this one relies on detecting the metabolic byproducts produced by your body after consuming drugs. This test can detect some drugs, like marijuana, months after use. As your body metabolizes the drug, the metabolites (byproduct molecule) can flow through blood in the scalp and deposit on growing hairs. As such, hair can function as a months long log of what substances a person digests. This testing is less common, seeing as most workplace drug tests are meant to look for recent or ongoing drug use.

Blood Testing

Testing blood yields an accurate picture of someone’s recent drug use and can identify the levels of drugs in the blood at the time of the test. It is the only of these tests that can guarantee a result during the test, others usually rely on specialized test facilities to verify results. However, the increased effectiveness comes at the cost of the tests’ expensive and invasive nature. The cost and rigor of performing this test often dissuade employers from using it.

Perspiration Testing

This is one of the newer and less common ways to test for drugs. Testing sweat takes much longer, up to 2 weeks, and is more commonly used to monitor someone on probation rather than testing someone for employment.

Detectable Timeframe
Codeine Urine: 1-2 days. Blood: 1 day. Saliva: 1-4 days.
Hydrocodone Urine: 2-4 days. Blood: 1 day. Saliva: 12-36 hours.
Heroin Urine: 2-7 days.  Blood: 6 hours. Saliva: 5 hours.
Morphine Urine: 2-3 days. Blood: 12 hours. Saliva: 4 days.
Fentanyl Urine: 1 day. Blood: 12 hours. Saliva: Unreliable.

Help Is Always Available

Companies and other entities have the right to drug test, and that right probably isn’t going away anytime soon. If you’re stressing about getting clean in time, please consider how the long-term effects of misusing substances could be so much worse than a missed job opportunity.

You can get the answers to your questions about rehab and recovery, make a small step forward, and lose the heavy weight that’s holding you down. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact a treatment provider today.

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