Heroin is one of the main illicit drugs contributing to the unprecedented opioid overdose epidemic in the U.S. that has been widely recognized as one the country’s most pressing public health emergencies.
In 2015, more Americans died from heroin overdoses than gun violence, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates that at least 517,000 people in the United States are battling heroin addiction.
Heroin also has become even more of a menacing threat as it is mixed with or entirely replaced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is a lot cheaper and easier to make than heroin as well as far more potent and deadly. Research has shown that many first-time users make heroin their drug of choice.
According to one study, nine percent of nearly 6,000 first-time opioid users started with heroin in 2005, but by 2015, the number of first-time opioid users who started with heroin jumped to 33.3 percent. Also, according to the study, new opioid users also prefer heroin over prescription drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Heroin, also known as “diamorphine,” is an illegal opiate drug that comes from morphine, a naturally occurring substance which is taken from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin is three times stronger than morphine and has no accepted medical use, which is why the U.S. has labeled it as a Schedule 1 drug. This designation also signals that heroin has a high potential for abuse.
When people think of heroin, a white powdered substance comes to mind, but that’s only one kind. There are others, such as black, brown, and tar heroin, all of which are dangerous to use. The drug is typically cut with other products, such as sugar, flour, starch, caffeine, powdered milk, and quinine. Such a hodgepodge of ingredients makes it difficult to know how pure the substance is, and such uncertainty can lead to death, especially if one of those mystery ingredients is fentanyl.
It has become increasingly common for the synthetic opioid to be mixed into heroin, and this practice has contributed to the spike in drug overdoses in the United States. Fentanyl is said to be 100 times stronger than morphine—the same substance heroin returns to upon entering one’s body—and binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, which regulate feelings of pain and pleasure.
People who use heroin typically inject, snort or smoke it. Injection and snorting it produces stronger highs and snorting it raises overdose risks. After heroin enters the brain and goes back to its original morphine state, heroin users experience a rush of euphoria, relaxation, sleepiness and reduced pain. These sensations are accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Heroin use brings with it its share of health problems. Users are at risk of clogging their blood vessels that are connected to vital organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and the brain, which can all be permanently damaged.
Recent heroin users who have recently stopped using the drug may wonder how long it takes for it to leave their systems. It depends on several factors, which are all unique to the person who used it.
Although the drug’s effects last for several hours, heroin is a quick-acting drug that reportedly has a short half-life of 30 minutes. This is the amount of time it takes for half the dose to be reduced in the bloodstream. However, not all drugs affect everyone exactly the same, so other factors must be taken into consideration, too.
Factors that determine how long heroin stays in your body include:
Heavy or frequent heroin users can expect the substance to remain in their systems longer than someone who uses it infrequently or occasionally. The purity of the heroin used is also an important factor because the more potent it is, the stronger it is. Additives to mixtures containing the opiate may affect how long the substance lingers. Metabolism also matters. People with faster metabolism rates will process the drug more quickly.
Many people in recovery are asked, at some point, to submit a sample for drug testing. It may be required during a drug treatment program or as part of an application for employment or it may be part of a court-ordered program. If you or someone you know when a person There are ways to test for heroin despite its quick exit from the body.
Tests that are commonly used to detect heroin use are:
All of these have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). How long the substance is detectable depends on the drug test that is given. However, time is a key variable in drug testing, and evidence of heroin use is detectable up to a certain time with saliva and blood tests. Saliva samples may not be able to produce evidence of heroin use after a short period of 48 hours or less, and blood tests are also not the most reliable as the drug leaves the bloodstream quickly.
Because heroin is metabolized quickly and has a short half-life, advanced tests look for the presence of heroin’s metabolites, including 6-monacetylmorphine, morphine (MOR), M3G, and M6G, writes MentalHealthDaily.com.
The urine test and hair follicle test are viewed as more reliable because they can detect drug use after longer periods have passed.
The urine test is most commonly used to evaluate whether heroin is being used. There are different kinds of urine tests that are used for drug screening. A five-panel urine tests for five drugs while a 10-panel drug screen tests for 10. The standard five-panel drug urine test is used most frequently by government agencies, and private employers, according to MobileHealth.net.
After the sample is collected, it is analyzed for diacetylmorphine and other metabolites.The urine test for heroin can find signs of use two to four days after the drug was taken. The urine of regular or chronic users can show evidence of use up to seven days after the drug was last used. The cutoff level for opiates, which includes heroin, is 2,000/ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter).
The hair follicle drug test for heroin can detect signs of heroin use up to three months or more since the drug was last taken. HairConfirm explains that the ingestion of drug abuse can be revealed after an analysis of a small hair sample because the bloodstream feeds hair growth. MentalHealthDaily.com writes, “During a hair test, an individual is instructed to provide a hair sample (at least 3 cm to 6 cm). These samples are then collected and analyzed to determine whether the individual has been using heroin (or any other drugs).”
There are some drawbacks to this method. One is that hair can be exposed to what it comes into contact with, so it can be easily contaminated.
Another is this kind of screening will not show if someone used heroin within the past few days, according to MentalHealthDaily.com. But if someone uses it today and then is tested in a couple of months, a hair follicle analysis is more likely to reveal heroin use.
HealthLine explains that the key difference between a hair drug follicle test and a urine drug test is the window of detection. “A urine drug test is used to test for drug use over the three days preceding the test. A hair follicle drug test is the only drug test that can detect repeated drug use up to 90 days prior to the test,” it writes.
Hair drug tests are not ideal for determining recent heroin use, according to HealthLine. Urine drug tests may be more appropriate for that purpose.
The best way to clear any drug screening is to be completely substance-free. Whether it’s heroin or any other addictive substance, dependence on a drug jeopardizes health, relationships, income, well-being and so much more. Battling an addiction with one of the most addictive drugs out there can be difficult without professional help from trained addiction specialists, but that’s what we’re here for. We can help you.
Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods for certain addictions. They are designed to allow you to receive the daily support of the facility’s staff and your loved ones when you return home. Our treatment centers provide just what’s needed for community, counseling, and support throughout the day so clients can apply the lessons they learn to their lives everyday life. Give us a call to discuss you or your loved one’s options today.
National Institute on Drug Abuse, (January, 2018).Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved May, 2018 from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
Cicero, T, ( May,2017).Increased use of heroin as an initiating opioid of abuse. Pubmed. Retrieved May, 2018 from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28582659/
ASAM, (May, 2017).Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures. ASAM. Retrieved May, 2018 from from https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
Chicago Tribune, (December, 2016).More than 50,000 overdose deaths: A grim tally soars to all-time U.S. high. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May, 2018 from from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-us-overdose-deaths-20161208-story.html