Last updated: May 25, 2020
Heroin enters the brain rapidly through the bloodstream and creates a sense of euphoria, blocks pain, and affects heart rate, sleeping, and breathing as well. “Nodding” is a side effect we commonly associate with heroin use. This fact makes using in the workplace difficult to hide. However, those who use the drug after hours and are subject to a drug test can be found out. It’s detected in the system for a few hours up to three months.
The wide range in the detection period directly relates to the type of drug test used.
Heroin is detected by all means of employee drug testing. Urine, saliva, and hair follicle tests are the most common. Blood tests are another option but are rarely used due to the expense. However, they are very accurate at detecting current impairment. For this reason, many drug-free and zero-tolerance policies reserve blood testing for post-accident situations because it accurately detects recent drug use.
Blood tests detect the parent drug rather than drug metabolites left after the body processes it. For this reason, it is the most accurate drug for determining current impairment. There is no way to falsify this test. Heroin is detected in the bloodstream for only five or six hours.
This is the most common type of employee drug test. Most probably due to the fact that it is the testing method required by the DOT (Department of Transportation). Consequently, most employers in the general workforce followed their lead.
However, it detects drug metabolites that are left in the system after the body processes the drug. Heroin becomes 6-Acetylmorphine (6-MAM). This metabolite is detected in the urine for 24 to 72 hours.
The saliva, or mouth swab test, is more widely used due to advances in the technology. Heroin use is detected in saliva as soon as two minutes after using. Like blood, the detection period is very short, lasting only 5 or 6 hours.
Hair follicle testing
The hair follicle drug test is unique. Drug metabolites that are not used by the body are stored away until fully excreted. Some of the metabolites wind up in the hair follicle and actually become a part of the hair as it grows. It takes about three days for the process to begin. From that point forward, there is a continuous record of drug use.
It’s estimated that human hair grows about one-half inch per month. The length of hair used for testing is one and a half inches. Therefore, drug tests detect heroin for a 90-day period.
Several factors play a part in how long someone tests positive for heroin. The most obvious reason, of course, is the frequency of use. Someone who rarely uses the drug will not test positive as long as someone who uses daily.
There are other things that affect detection periods as well.
- Heroin collects in body fat. Therefore, an overweight person will have heroin in the system longer than someone who has less body fat.
- Liver and kidney functions make a difference. Heroin mainly metabolizes in the liver, but a smaller portion metabolizes in the kidneys. Impaired liver and kidney functions result in heroin taking longer to clear the system.
- The purity of the drug determines how it breaks down. It makes sense, then, that this increases or decreases the amount of detection time. It depends on the concentration.
- Certain drugs have the same metabolic enzymes as heroin. They inhibit the metabolism process and result in slower excretion times.
- People metabolize what goes into their body differently. That’s part of our DNA. Subsequently, lower metabolism equals a longer detection period.
It’s the euphoric effect of heroin that hooks users. We mentioned “nodding” above. It is another common side effect that causes the user to fluctuate between consciousness and semi-consciousness. However, there are other common effects the user experiences.
- Slurred speech
- Dry mouth
- Flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Clouded mental functioning
- Heavy feelings in the arms and legs
As with any addictive substance, the long-term effects of the drug are detrimental to the health and well-being of the addict.
- Collapsed veins if the user shoots up
- Damaged nose tissue for those who sniff or snort it
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Constipation and stomach cramps
- Liver and kidney disease
- Antisocial personality
- Women experience irregular menstrual cycles
- Men experience sexual dysfunction
As if that isn’t enough, heroin often contains additives such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk. This can clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain causing permanent damage. Also, sharing needles increases the risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis.
All of these far outweigh the euphoric feeling that accompanies heroin use. The peak experience of the user varies. It depends on the way they ingest it.
- Addicts commonly inject heroin. The onset of its peak happens within 20 seconds.
- Smoking the drug produces peak onset of effects in as little as 10 minutes and lasts as little as five minutes. This is the least common method of use.
- Snorting heroin results in a peak experience within three to five minutes. The high is less intense but lasts about 15 to 30 minutes.
The overall effects of using heroin, sluggishness and disconnecting from the world, last about four or five hours.
Why they continue
Heroin is a highly addictive drug. The euphoric effect lasts a short amount of time, however. This causes users to seek more. Additionally, over time the body develops a tolerance to the drug. This means that the brain rewires itself to feel “normal” when heroin is present. Ingesting larger doses brings back the feelings of euphoria the addict is seeking.
This greatly increases the risk of overdosing on the drug. In fact, during 2017, 15,482 people died as a result of a heroin overdose. However, the overall number of deaths due to overdose dropped to around 70,000 in 2018 compared to just over 72,000 the prior year.
There is hope that we are beginning to see a light at the end of this very dark tunnel. However, drug abuse remains a blight on our nation. Continued education on the ill effects of drug use is key to someday ridding ourselves of it once and for all.