Drugs, like methamphetamine, that are made in a laboratory can be difficult for the body to find, metabolize and eliminate. The body may not have the specific chemicals needed to break down these substances and get them safely out of the body. Heroin, on the other hand, is produced from the poppy plant and scientists have determined that it’s remarkably easy for the body to target heroin for removal. See Related: Heroin Addiction.
Addiction Provides a Clue
People who are addicted to heroin develop nervous systems that are remarkably calibrated to the presence of heroin. This is, in part, why heroin is so very addictive. When people attempt to stop taking heroin, the body must recalibrate to adjust to the lack of available heroin. During this process, the user can experience:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Goose bumps
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these symptoms can begin hours after the addict uses heroin. Since these withdrawal symptoms are caused by a lack of available heroin in the bloodstream, it’s reasonable to believe that heroin begins to clear from the body mere hours after the user takes it in. The user’s symptoms indicate that there is no more heroin in the body. There are other ways to determine how long heroin takes to move out of the body, however, and these methods might be slightly more accurate.
Testing for heroin often means testing for the presence of chemicals the body uses to process heroin. The drug itself is metabolized within hours, so testing for the drug itself isn’t likely to provide meaningful results. Testing for the metabolites, on the other hand, can be accurate. If metabolites exist, it means that the body is still finding heroin to digest. The drug is still present in the system when metabolites are found.
Most urine tests detect heroin metabolites within about two days of use. But, people who take in large doses of heroin, all in one sitting, may need a much longer period of time before their bodies clear themselves of heroin. The body can only clear so much heroin at any one time, and flooding the body with an extremely large dose can cause a backup in processing. These people may have heroin sitting in their bodies for a much longer time period as a result.
When heroin and heroin metabolites are circulating in the bloodstream, they brush past growing hair follicles, and the hair that is created during this time may contain evidence of drug use. This hair can hold these particles deep inside for months, and there’s very little a user can do to remove it. In fact, a study published in the journal Forensic Science International found that people who put opiates like heroin on the outsides of their hair, infecting it with particles, couldn’t remove the particles with normal washing practices. The hair seems to bind tightly to these particles.
While heroin may be metabolized in rapid fashion by the body, it does tend to linger for days within the body, and it can reside in the hair for months. In other words, it’s a drug that leaves a visible footprint for an extended period of time.