While heroin’s effects are long-lasting compared to other drugs like meth and cocaine, it has a relatively short half-life of 30 minutes or less, depending on how the drug is administered. In other words, if a user takes one dose of heroin, half of the drug will be flushed out of their system within 30 minutes. When it’s injected directly into the bloodstream, its half-life is as short as three minutes.
The exact amount of time heroin stays in the body varies from one person to another and depends on a variety of factors, including the quality of the drug and how much was taken. Personal factors that affect how long it stays in the body include:
- Height and weight
- Level of hydration
- Kidney and liver health
- Body fat content
Why Heroin Testing Is Necessary
Heroin testing is used to detect the presence of heroin in saliva, urine, blood or hair. This powerful drug is highly addictive, and using it can greatly impact someone’s health, safety, and quality of life. There are two primary reasons for heroin testing: to ensure a drug-free workplace and to comply with compliance standards for some drug rehabilitation programs.
Heroin Testing and Employers
Heroin abuse creates significant health and safety hazards in the workplace, as well as decreased productivity, poor employee morale and retention, and an increased risk of theft. It can also result in a higher number of health insurance and short-term, disability claims.
Federal and non-federal employers use drug testing as part of a comprehensive drug-free program for several reasons, including:
- To deter current employees from using illicit drugs like heroin
- To prevent hiring those who use heroin
- To identify heroin addiction in current employees and refer them to organizations that can help
- To provide a safe environment for all employees
- To protect clients and customers
- To comply with state and federal laws and regulations
- To benefit from premium discount programs provided by health insurance providers
Heroin Testing and Rehab Programs
Denial of an addiction to heroin is common among those who use this drug. Regular drug testing is often a part of rehab programs, providing fairly accurate feedback on how an individual is progressing through treatment. It also provides accountability for the person recovering from heroin addiction, helping to prevent relapse and supporting their wellness goals.
Drug testing is a regular part of most rehab programs, both for those who’ve entered into rehab voluntarily and those who have been legally mandated to seek treatment after being convicted of heroin possession.
How Commonly Is Heroin Tested
The majority of standard drug tests screen for heroin use. A basic, five-panel drug urine test screens for commonly used substances like THC, heroin and other opiates, cocaine, PCP, and amphetamines. This is generally the test used for pre-employment screenings and random employee drug screenings. However, because heroin is metabolized so quickly, five-panel drug tests can result in false negatives. If heroin use is suspected, an employer may require more advanced tests that are more effective in detecting traces of heroin in the system.
Some employers may test for heroin if they suspect that an employee is using the substance. This is sometimes called “probable cause” or “for cause” testing, and it is conducted after a supervisor documents observable signs that indicate drug use. Drug testing may also be conducted after a workplace accident to determine if drug use was a contributing factor in the incident. In some cases, once a worker returns to their job after completing a drug rehab program, their employer may require that they undergo follow-up drug testing. This testing is administered unannounced and at random.
Heroin testing may be part of a criminal or motor vehicle accident investigation. It may also be ordered as part of a court case.
How Is Heroin Tested
The presence of heroin in the body is tested using several different bodily fluids and specimens. The drug tests that are approved for heroin are those that test blood, urine, saliva, and hair. Because heroin has such a short half-life, not all of these tests are accurate in indicating whether someone has recently used this drug.
How Long Is Heroin in Blood
Blood samples show an accurate measure of how much of a given drug is present in the body at the time the sample is taken. However, because heroin leaves the body so quickly, blood tests aren’t often used to detect whether this drug has recently been used. Depending on how the drug is administered, it may become undetectable in bodily fluids in as little as five hours.
How Long Is Heroin in Urine
Similarly, urine is generally not a good indicator as to whether heroin was recently used. Most of the time, heroin is no longer detectable in an individual’s urine after just two days.
How Long Is Heroin in Saliva
Oral fluids, or saliva, may be tested to detect the presence of heroin. Oral fluids tests are relatively easy to collect and hard to alter, making them reliable for testing for a variety of substances. However, because of heroin’s short half-life, saliva tests generally aren’t used for testing for this substance. In most cases, heroin isn’t detectable through a saliva test after two days.
How Long Is Heroin in Hair
The only reliable test that detects heroin use is the hair follicle test. This test provides a much longer testing window and can give a more complete drug-use snapshot. It can detect heroin for up to three months.
Common Methods of Altering Test Results
For most people, recovering from an addiction to heroin is a long road, and slip-ups may happen, especially at the beginning of the journey to recovery. In many cases, those who have to take a drug test but have recently used heroin may attempt to cover up their heroin use by altering their test results.
Altering a Saliva Test
Because heroin metabolizes quickly, saliva tests generally aren’t reliable in determining whether someone has recently used this substance. Even so, a common method of beating a saliva test in the days leading up to it is to combine drinking a lot of water with a lot of exercise in an attempt to speed up metabolism. Alternately, an individual may use mouthwash to clear out toxins.
Altering a Urine Test
The urine test is the most popular, and people have come up with numerous ways to beat it. There are many so-called “detox drinks” on the market today that are designed to dilute the user’s urine. To mask the fact that the urine is diluted, these drinks are packed with Vitamin B, which makes urine look more yellow, and creatine, which is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that is flushed away in urine. Together, Vitamin B and creatine make the urine look less diluted than it is.
Some people may alter their urine sample with eye drops, which changes the pH level of the urine. Alternatively, they may add some bleach to their drug test to attempt to pass the test or make test results inconclusive.
Altering a Hair Follicle Test
A hair follicle test is the most reliable test for detecting heroin, and it’s also the most difficult test to beat. To avoid a positive test result, some who use heroin may take drastic measures and shave their head and all the hair on their body. A more subtle method of beating a hair follicle test is the Macujo method. This seven-step hair cleansing process, which opens the hair cuticles to allow metabolites to be washed out of the hair, is reportedly effective for some people.
Getting Help with a Heroin Addiction
The bottom line is that in many cases, drug tests can be beat, especially with a drug like heroin that leaves the body quickly. However, while altering drug test results may spare someone trouble in the shorter term, it does them no favors in the long run.
Trying to alter drug test results is a strong indicator that professional help is needed. Heroin is a powerful drug, and overcoming this addiction generally requires guidance from an expert.