Whether you have a history of drug use or not, you may have to go through a drug test at some point in your life. It’s required when applying for specific jobs, especially government positions. And, if you live in a sober living house, you’ll be given frequent and random drug tests. If you have no history of drug use, a drug test might not concern you at all. But if you are in recovery, a drug test might cause you to think twice. The United States is currently in the midst of an epidemic of addiction and overdose, particularly due to the class of drugs called opioids. Opioids include prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin and Percocet and illicit drugs like heroin. Since opioid addiction is such a widespread disease in the U.S., it might affect you or a loved one.
Knowing how heroin and other opioids can affect the body can help you better understand what you or someone you know might be up against.
How Heroin Affects the Body
Heroin affects the body in several ways but has the most profound effect on the brain. It passes the blood-brain barrier quickly and binds to a certain type of opioid receptor that’s present in the brain and spinal cord. This creates euphoric and relaxing effects. Like its prescription counterparts, it also relieves pain and anxiety.
When injected, users may feel a body high, or warmth and tingle all over the body. Heroin is extremely addictive, causing both physical dependence and psychological addiction. Plus, because dosage and purity can be hard to predict on the street, it often leads to deadly overdoses.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Body?
Heroin produces profound effects when it is introduced into the body, and those effects can linger for up to five hours after your last hit. A chemical substance’s half-life measures the rate at which it decays. Heroin’s half-life is around 30 minutes, which means it takes that much time to decay to half of its original concentration. However, different factors can affect the length of time the drug persists in your bloodstream.
Like alcohol consumption, your size will play a part in determining how long heroin will stay in your system. The same dose will affect a five-foot-tall cheerleader and a 250-pound linebacker very differently. The smaller and lighter you are, the longer it will take for your body to process an average dose of heroin.
Of course, the amount of heroin you take is a major factor. The more you introduce into your body, the longer it will take to process before it is gone. Plus, heroin’s purity can be unpredictable when you get it on the street. Very pure heroin will be more potent and last longer than cheaper hits. If heroin is cut with inert adulterants (additives that cause no additional effects), it might process more quickly. Some heroin can be cut with other drugs or additives that slow its breakdown, which can cause it to last longer.
Finally, people with faster metabolisms will process heroin more quickly. If you exercise regularly, your body will be better at dealing with toxins that are introduced, and traceable concentrations of heroin will start to dissipate faster.
How Is Heroin Use Tested?
Like most drugs, there are several ways to test for the use of heroin. Traces can be found in your blood, saliva, urine, and hair follicles between a few hours to months later depending on the type of test. The most common test is a urine drug screen that’s used for its relative accuracy and low cost. However, it does regularly produce false positives, so most positive results are also re-tested.
Urine is tested with an immunoassay, a biochemical test that involves exposing different substances to the urine looking for a reaction. This test can be performed for medical purposes to find a diagnosis or to screen for drugs. A strip with a variety of different chemicals, called a dipstick, is dipped into the urine sample, and, if certain parts change color, it indicates a chemical reaction.
If the sample comes back from the immunoassay test as positive, it is sent for a second, more comprehensive analysis called a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test. This test can identify different substances within the sample. Though it’s more comprehensive, it’s more expensive so, in drug screens, it is used as a second stage.
How Long Is Heroin Detectable?
The length of time before heroin is no longer detectable depends on the type of test you take. A urine test will be able to detect heroin in your system for up to two days. However, in specific circumstances, the test has been able to detect heroin as long as seven days later.
Because heroin has such a short half-life, it can’t be detected in blood or saliva for very long. Since it won’t be detected after six hours, this test isn’t usually performed.
Hair follicle tests can detect the use of heroin as long as three months after your last dose. However, though it can detect the oldest traces of the drug, this test isn’t commonly used because your hair is exposed to whatever might come in contact with the surface of your body. The follicle test is the most easily contaminated by foreign substances.