Although there are several narcotic drugs, both prescription and illicit, the original synthetic opioid drug is morphine. This substance was derived from the opium poppy in 1803, with the goal of having a more refined painkiller for medical treatment than organic opium. Morphine is more potent than opium. While it proved to be an effective treatment during and after surgery or injury, it also led to addiction and abuse, which was first noticed among Civil War veterans.
Since morphine’s invention, medical researchers have tried to find an opioid drug that is as effective at killing pain without the addiction risks. Morphine is the precursor to all synthetic opioids now, including hydrocodone, codeine, oxycodone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and heroin. Unfortunately, there is a risk of addiction associated with taking any opioid medication, including morphine, which is available in various forms for prescription use.
Several immediate-release and extended-release versions of morphine are available for prescription use. It is not prescribed as widely as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or codeine, so it is not misused or abused as often as these modern opioids are.
Extended-release versions of morphine provide eight to 12 hours of analgesia, while immediate-release formulas provide four to six hours of pain relief. Peak effects in immediate-release morphine occur in one to two hours after the drug is ingested; however, metabolites from the medication remain in the body for longer than the substance’s analgesic effects ease the pain, so it is important to take morphine doses only as prescribed by a physician. Taking more than prescribed, or taking it more often than prescribed, is misuse and can lead to overdose or addiction.
Morphine’s half-life is between 1.5 to 4.5 hours, although it can remain present in the body for longer if extended-release versions were taken. This means it can take eight to nine hours for morphine to metabolize out of the body completely.
If you quit taking morphine, you may develop withdrawal symptoms after eight hours, as the drug completely leaves your body, if no replacement dose follows that. Withdrawal symptoms are associated with physical dependence on a substance. You might experience withdrawal symptoms if you took morphine as prescribed because your brain may become reliant on the presence of the drug, but you may not crave it or abuse it. However, if you do develop an addiction to morphine and compulsively take larger doses of it over time, you are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms after morphine is eliminated from your body.
Working with a detox program that has medical supervision from a physician can ease the morphine withdrawal process. During detox and rehabilitation, you may be tested for drugs consistently so that your doctor can understand how long you took a substance, how long it is taking to leave your body, and if you have relapsed. Drug testing is also important for law enforcement proceedings and workplace safety.
There are several different kinds of drug tests. Urine tests are the most often used, but blood, saliva, hair, fingernails, and even sweat can all be analyzed for intoxicants.
Drug testing that uses hair strands does not show current intoxication or recent intoxication; however, hair tests can provide a history of substance abuse. A strand of hair can provide a 90-day record of repeated substance abuse or prescription drug consumption. It is unlikely a detox program would use a hair test, but some employers may use a hair test to determine if any undisclosed, dangerous drug abuse has occurred in the past three months.
Like hair testing, fingernail testing will not show recent substance abuse. Like hair, fingernails are made of keratin, which absorbs chemicals from the bloodstream during the growth process. This can show a history of drug abuse for three to six months after the substance was consumed. Biomarkers for some drugs and alcohol can be found in the fingernails as soon as one to two weeks later. Illicit drugs in the environment, like smoke, can be detected on fingernails immediately after exposure.
This is one of the most common forms of drug testing because it is minimally invasive and can show a recent history of drug abuse within a few hours after the substance is consumed. Opioids like morphine can be detected in urine for up to three days after use.
Because samples must be sent away to labs, in most cases, confirmed results are not usually available on the same day. Instead, urine testing is most likely to be applied to determine if someone has relapsed back into morphine abuse.
This form of drug testing is most often used to determine if someone is intoxicated. Active metabolites from a substance like morphine remain in the blood for several hours, so someone who is pulled over for driving while intoxicated (DWI) may receive a blood test in jail if the arresting officer believes the person is under the influence of a substance. It is considered an invasive procedure, so it is not likely that blood testing will be the first approach to testing in most situations.
This is also a rarely used testing method. Saliva testing can detect the presence of opioids like morphine starting after the drug was abused — especially if residues from morphine remain in the mouth — to about four days later.
This type of testing is becoming more prominent, although it is most likely to be used in drug court cases than other situations. A patch is applied to the body, which collects sweat to be analyzed later. Drugs can be detected from sweat one to 14 days after they were consumed, allowing a history of substance abuse within that window to be determined or to show that the person has remained sober during that time.
In general, withdrawal from opioids like morphine takes between three and 10 days. The process can be uncomfortable, but it is not life-threatening.
Working with a detox program reduces your risk of relapse — not just because you will be consistently drug tested and monitored, but because a physician will work with you to monitor your withdrawal symptoms and determine how best to manage them. This may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
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