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How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?

by Landmark Recovery

August 12, 2019

Whether it is oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, morphine, or some other opiate, these opioids and other substances tend to stay in your body for some time after you use them. It is important to learn more about these types of drugs as they have become a common place in American society, with opioids being prescribed at astonishingly high rates which has lead to the substances causing the deaths of many Americans.

In recent years, opioids, specifically synthetic opioids, have become a serious problem in the United States. Over the past two decades, opioids have gone from causing a few thousand drug overdose deaths each year to nearly 50,000 in 2017. That number has risen steadily during that time and hasn’t shown much evidence of slowing down. While there have been attempts by politicians and activists to cut down on opioid use, there haven’t been many concrete results.

While opioids may be dangerous and can cause problems for many Americans, they are still prescription drugs that can be given to most people in the country. Because of the high prescription rate and high likelihood that you will eventually run into them, it is important to learn more about these substances so that you can recognize signs of abuse and addiction.

How Long are Opioids in the Body?

A woman thinking about how to avoid stigma regarding her addiction

There are a number of factors that can influence how long opioids will stay in your system, but in general opioids will first be present in the body within one to three hours after taking the substance and will stay in the body for one to two days.

Opioids are one of the most effective and potent forms of pain medications. Because of this, they are often used to treat chronic pain, many times after surgery or some other operation. There is a strong addictive potential associated with opioids and because of this, it can require monitoring for proof of avoidance of non-prescribed use of these substances. Learning more about how opioids work in the body and how long opioids stay in the system can help you avoid dependence and addiction issues.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that are found naturally in the opium poppy plant. Some commonly prescribed opioids are made from the plant directly while others are synthesized in labs by scientists using the same chemical structure.

Opioids are used as medicines to help with many issues such as moderate and severe pain, chronic pain, coughing, and diarrhea. Opioids can help to make you feel relaxed and “high” which is why they are commonly abused and used for non-medical purposes. It should be noted that heroin is an opioid and one of the world’s most dangerous opioids and is not used as a medicine in the United States. Other popular forms of opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, and more.

Opioids can be dangerous even when used as prescribed. However, if they are misused, it can lead to dangerous side effects and symptoms and can even prove to be life-threatening.

What Do Opioids Do to the Body?

Opioids are one type of drug that affect nearly every part of the body in one way or another. It can impact the respiratory, nervous, cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems. These drugs can lead to issues like infected heart lining, respiratory depression, slowed digestion, greater sensitivity to pain, vulnerability to infection, and more.

Some short-term effects associated with opioids include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Nausea
  • Coma and more

There are also several long-term effects, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Goose bumps and more

One of the most impacted parts of the body when it comes to opioid use is the brain.

The Brain

Opioids work by binding to and activating the opioid receptors in the cells located in many areas of the brain, spinal cord, and other organs. When the opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals that are sent from the brain to the body. This is why opioid medication works well as a pain reliever.


Like other drugs and substances, opioids can change the way that the brain works. These changes can lead to physical dependence on opioids and if the use of opioids is stopped, it can lead to unpleasant or painful withdrawal symptoms. These issues combined can lead to addiction. Unfortunately, becoming addicted to opioids, or any drug for that matter, can lead to major problems in your life and can make it hard to enjoy things that once made you happy. Many times, addiction can eventually lead to life-threatening issues such as overdoses. Some common signs of overdoses include:

  • Limp body
  • Vomiting
  • Pale face
  • Clammy skin
  • Slowed breathing and heartbeat

If someone has some of these signs, call 911.


As mentioned before, heroin is an opioid as it is derived from the opium and the poppy plant. While heroin is one of the most used and most dangerous drugs in the world, it is somewhat overlooked when it comes to opioids as prescription painkillers seem to get most of the publicity.

Heroin is made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of some poppy plants that are native to ares in Asia, Mexico, and Columbia. Heroin is a substance that can be injected, smoked, or inhaled.

Like opioids, heroin enters the brain and will bind to the opioid receptors that control pain and pleasure. These receptors are important for controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Some short-term effects associated with heroin use includes:

  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy arms and legs
  • Feeling sick and vomiting
  • Cognitive issues

Long-term effect of heroin can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Damaged tissue and veins
  • Stomach cramps
  • Lung problems and more

Heroin is a highly addictive substance and people who regularly use the drug can develop a tolerance. This requires them to use higher doses or take a substance more often in order to achieve the desired results and effects of the drug.

Those who are addicted to heroin will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using. These symptoms can occur even just a few hours after the drug was last taken. Withdrawal symptoms caused by heroin can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, diarrhea, vomiting, cravings, and more.


One of the most worrisome parts of heroin is the potential for addiction and overdose. A person can overdose on the drug if they use enough to produce a life-threatening reaction or death. Recently, there have been large increases in heroin overdoses in the United States. This could be attributed to many things. One commonly thought of cause of this increase is the rise of opioid pain pills over the past two decades. People will begin by using these prescription drugs and eventually transition to heroin as it is a cheaper and more potent alternative.

When people overdose on heroin, they will experience depressed respiratory function causing slowed or stopped breathing. The use of the drug can cause a decrease in the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain leading to harmful mental effects and effects on the nervous system. It can even cause issues like coma and permanent brain damage.

Naloxone is a medication that is used to treat opioid overdose. The medication works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the effects of heroin or other opioid drugs.


Oxycodone is one of the most commonly used opioids in the country. Often referred to by its brand name, OxyContin, oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that is prescribed to provide long-term relief of moderate to severe pain associated with a number of health conditions including cancer and arthritis.

OxyContin is a drug of high abuse potential and in recent years it has been linked to the rise in opioid deaths in the United States. There are numerous allegations against Purdue Pharma, the company who manufacturers OxyContin, regarding their marketing tactics of OxyContin. In fact, the company is in the middle of many lawsuits about this issue. In March, Purdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma.

Oxycodone can result in a number of short-term and long-term effects and can even cause overdoses.

Some of the short-term effects that oxycodone can cause include pain relief, dizziness, tiredness, confusion, slow pulse, nausea, stomach ache, and more. Meanwhile, some of the long-term effects can include dental problems, mood swings, social issues, and addiction.


Unfortunately, oxycodone use often leads to dependence and addiction which can cause many withdrawal symptoms if oxycodone use is ceased abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, however, there are some common symptoms that affect many people, including:

  • Running nose
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and more

While addiction and withdrawal can be dangerous and even, in some cases, life-threatening, the continued use of oxycodone can cause an overdose, something much more dangerous.

Oxycodone overdoses, like all overdoses occur when someone intentionally or accidentally takes too much of the substance.


There’s a strong chance that you’ve heard of fentanyl. The substance is constantly in the news as many illicit drugs are being cut with fentanyl so drug manufacturers can maximize profits and increase potency. However, fentanyl is a very powerful opiate that the Drug Enforcement Agency says is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and in many cases it can lead to drug overdose deaths.

Fentanyl can cause many dangerous and harmful side effects including drowsiness, heartburn, stomach pain, depression, anxiety, and more. However, there are more serious side effects, if you or your loved one is dealing with the following issues, it is important to call your doctor immediately

  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Itching and more

The number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has climbed over the past two decades, mostly due to the emergence of opioids and the opioid crisis. A large reason for the rise in opioid overdose deaths is due to fentanyl specifically which contributed to roughly 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 alone.

While heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl are among the most notable opioids, there are dozens more including hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and more. Many of these are highly prescribed medications to help patients overcome certain problems such as chronic pain. However, if not taken as prescribed, it can lead to a dependence and addiction to these medications.

Learning as much as you can about the common opioids will help you identify signs of dependence and addiction if they begin to come up in you or your loved one. If these issues do occur and the problem is severe, the next best thing you can do is to seek the help of a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

Next Steps

Landmark Recovery is a top drug and alcohol rehab organization that is dedicated to helping as many patients as possible. At Landmark we are committed to helping one million families over the next 100 years. The opioid epidemic is a major problem in the United States and while politicians and law enforcement are rushing to find a solution, rehabilitation centers like Landmark are here to help those who are already struggling with opioids.

At our Indiana treatment center, we use evidence-based treatment methods to create a personalized recovery plan to help all those who deal with issues related to drug or alcohol addiction. We can provide a number of different services including medication-assisted treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, group counseling, and more to help patients overcome their addiction and any related problems or comorbidities that they may be dealing with.

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We're here 24/7 to help you get the care you need to live life on your terms, without drugs or alcohol. Talk to our recovery specialists today and learn about our integrated treatment programs.

About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.