Heroin is a highly addictive narcotic and one of the most abused substances to be illegally circulated. It comes from morphine, derived from the poppy plant’s resin. As it comes from morphine, it also possesses the same potent painkilling properties, which is why so many are hooked on it. Since heroin is an opioid, it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure and pain.
Individuals with a heroin addiction will experience a combination of the below side effects:
- Intense itching
- Dry mouth
- Warm skin
- Difficulty focusing
- Loss of consciousness
- Slowed heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Mental health issues
- Risk of potential diseases, such as liver and kidney disease
- And others
Heroin can be detected in the body for several days or months, depending on the test used to detect it:
- Urine: 48 hours, with some tests showing up to 7 days
- Blood: Anywhere from 5 to 6 hours or up to 2 days, depending on the specific test
- Saliva: 5 to 6 hours or up to 2 days with specific tests
- Hair Follicles: Up to 3 months
The half-life of heroin is only 30 minutes, so after a person takes a single dose, half the drug will be flushed out of their system within 30 minutes or less. But the remaining amount of the drug can last for much longer (as mentioned above). As an abused substance, one of the biggest concerns with chronic heroin use is that once it breaks down, it stays within the body longer than most other substances. The body breaks down or metabolizes anything taken in, so the components are better processed.
Technically, heroin is not too difficult to flush out of the system. What makes heroin so problematic is that once it is metabolized, the broken-down components stay in the body for much longer than other substances – oftentimes for days.
Once broken down, heroin is often not detected in drug screenings or blood toxicology tests. Unless a specific test is conducted, the metabolites are not found and are processed by the body. The body metabolizes heroin rather quickly, breaking it down into morphine and 6-monoacetylmorphine.>
Once these metabolites are absorbed into the bloodstream, the effects of heroin would peak at four to six hours, depending upon the body mass and health of the user. During these hours, the user is observed to either be in a constant state of stupor or even in a trance-like state.
The length of time that heroin affects a person could be based on several factors, including:
Unless specifically ordered, heroin drug testing is usually done as part of a broad screening panel. The result of this initial test will then determine if there is a need to conduct a second, more specific test.
Testing for possible opioid abuse involves samples of a person’s urine, blood, saliva, and sometimes even hair and sweat. Opioid testing is a more specific type of drug test, as it checks for opioid metabolites in the testing sample.</>
Still, typical drug screenings detect mostly natural opioids like heroin and morphine but fail to detect the more widely used synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids. Add to this that opioids and their resulting metabolites could only be detected inside their “detection window” or when they could still be identified chemically.
Detoxification from abused substances is necessary if one wishes to have a life outside of addiction or, in severe cases, if one wishes to live at all. Heroin addiction is almost certain to lead to overdose at some point, and the statistics of heroin-related deaths are simply too high to ignore.
Heroin detox is also quite difficult, as the withdrawal symptoms of heroin addiction are quite severe. Once the patients are out of the induced stupor from prolonged use of heroin due to initial detox, they immediately seek it out once more.
For the first few days during heroin medical detox, the patient experiences agonizing pain as nerve endings and pain receptors made dull by heroin use become active again. The pain is typically followed by days full of nausea, shivers, intense sweating, and vomiting.
The severe withdrawal symptoms are not usually expected to subside until after a full week. This is when depression, anxiety, and fatigue set in.
Considering just how severe the withdrawal symptoms are, it shows how dependent the body is on heroin and how close it is to shutting down permanently. This is why it is essential to undergo detox at the soonest opportunity.
Achieve Wellness and Recovery has always made a point to stress that recovery and wellness are everyone’s business, not just ours. We just do our best to help those who need it to Achieve it.
Medically Reviewed By
Nicole Rettino-Lambert LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, CSTIP
Nicole Rettino-Lambert is a dually licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in both addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Along with extensive experience in clinical work, she has held leadership roles in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments centers in New Jersey. Throughout her various leadership positions, Rettino-Lambert has developed clinical programming, assisted staff in their growth and development in the clinical field, and had the privilege of helping numerous individuals on their path to recovery.