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FAQ: How Long Do Painkillers Stay in Your System?

The opioid epidemic remains a serious problem in the U.S., although the government is working hard to fix it. It appears as though new pain clinics are popping up all the time. This is bad news for those who are addicted and want to stop.

Every year, doctors seem to be giving out prescriptions for painkillers as if they are candy. In 2012 alone, there were more than 259 million prescriptions written for these drugs. That is enough for each adult in the United States to have their own bottle of pills.

People with the desire to stop using these drugs often wonder, how long do painkillers stay in the body? A lot of them are taking their medications without giving it a second thought. They often fail to realize the addictive nature of them before it is too late. By that time, they are already hooked. This means that their bodies have developed a tolerance to and dependence on the drug.

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How Long do Painkillers Stay in the System?

The length of time that painkillers stay in the system varies from drug to drug. It is difficult to give a concrete answer without knowing what the drug is and the dosage.

There are some basic guidelines that should be followed. For instance, it can take between three to seven days for the body to clear prescription opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl. On the other hand, Methadone can take as long as five days to be cleared from the system.

Each medication can come in two different forms. They are either immediate release or extended release. The immediate release drugs are removed from the body in a much quicker timeframe. It takes longer to remove the extended release pain pills because they slowly release the active ingredients over time.

Also, the parent drug may be cleared from the system, and yet, the metabolites linger. They can be detected by drug tests, which employers may use to determine if their employees are using. People who are not abusing the drug may need to show proof that they have a prescription.

Answering this question depends on a few different factors. The effects of immediate release pain pills may be felt earlier than the extended release versions; but they will work for a longer period of time. Also different drugs vary in the time they take to kick in.

The method of administration also plays a major role in how long it takes pain medications to start working. If someone is swallowing a pill, it may take effect within 30-60 minutes. If they are getting an injection or an IV, it should only take minutes. For someone who is abusing painkillers by snorting them, they should feel the effects very quickly as well.

Factors that Affect How Long Prescription Pain Medications Stay in the System

How Long Painkillers Stay in the System

There are a number of factors that can affect how long painkillers stay in the body. Some of them include:

  • Age – Older patients tend to have slower metabolism rates. They will clear pain medications at a much slower rate than younger people. They are also more likely to have kidney and/or liver issues, which can affect how efficiently the active ingredients are removed.
  • Body Fat – An individual’s metabolic rate is proportional to their body measurements, and fat content plays a major role in that. Someone with more body fat will clear painkillers much faster.
  • Genetic Factors – There are genetic variants that aid in the process of removing chemicals from the body.
  • General Health – Someone who struggles with chronic conditions and diseases may take medications that affect elimination rates.
  • Metabolism – Someone with a faster metabolism will clear pain medications much more quickly than someone with a slower metabolism.

Drug Detection Methods and Times

There are many drug tests available for prescription painkillers. Some are highly specific, and the results need to be tested at a lab. Others are much less specific and can provide instant results. Both can tell you if someone is positive for drugs within minutes.

Different types of painkillers can be detected in bodily fluids and hair for various amounts of time. Some can be found for weeks, and others only have a window of a few days. The most common drug tests include:

  • Blood testing
  • Hair testing
  • Saliva testing
  • Sweat testing
  • Urine testing

Urine testing tends to be the most popular because it is the most cost effective. It is also fairly reliable and can provide instant results. This method is ideal for spouses or parents who suspect a family member of doing drugs.

Hair tests offer in-depth details and information. They can detect drug use for all types of painkillers for up to 90 days. 1.5 inches of new growth should be used as a sample. Hair tests can tell the type of drug that was taken as well as when it was taken.

Opioids will accumulate in fatty tissues if taken for an extended period of time, and the detection windows will be much longer. This happens because fatty tissues will slowly release the active compounds over time.

A drug’s half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for half of it to leave the system. Once that cycle is complete, the body will continue working to eliminate the next half. That will continue until the drug has been completely eliminated. In general, it takes five to six cycles before it is complete.

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Popular Types of Painkillers

When someone experiences pain, they will be prescribed medication to treat that pain. Of course, the individual’s level of pain will indicate the type of drug that is given to them. Mild painkillers (non-opioids) are used to treat mild pain, whereas moderate to severe pain is treated with prescription opioids.

Most doctors will prescribe immediate release painkillers first. They offer relief for short periods of time, and the dosage is easy to adjust. If the problem is persistent, the patient may be transitioned to an extended release version because they have a longer effect on the body.

There are many different types of prescription painkillers. Some of the most popular ones include:

Buprenorphine is a drug that is most commonly connected with opioid detox. It is an ORT medication that has helped many people. But in those who suffer with chronic pain, it may be offered instead of another prescription painkiller if the individual has a history of opioid addiction.

Buprenorphine has a half-life of 24-42 hours in the blood. It can be detected in urine tests for up to three days. A hair test may remain positive for a few months.

Codeine is a medication that is often prescribed to patients who are suffering with a severe cough. They may have a cold or the flu, and they may be suffering from pain as a result. It is a very effective cough suppressant, but it also controls mild to moderate pain.

As far as how long codeine stays in the system, it varies. But it can be detected in urine tests for up to three days. In blood tests, it can be found for up to 24 hours. It can be found in saliva for one to four days, and in hair tests for up to three months.

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful painkillers on the planet. It is generally never prescribed prior to trying other pain relief methods first. In addition to being strong, it is also highly addictive. It usually comes in the form of an extended release patch, but the medication can be extracted for abuse purposes.

The administration route of Fentanyl plays a major role in whether it will be detected in a drug test. But the drug will stay in the system for as long as five days, regardless of how it was taken.

Hydrocodone is also known as Vicodin. This drug is often doctor’s go-to choice for pain relief. It tends to work very well in those who suffer from moderate to severe pain. It also pairs well for those who also require a muscle relaxer, such as Flexeril. Even so, it is also highly addictive, even when taken for a short period of time.

People only experience pain relief from Hydrocodone for about four to six hours. It can be detected in saliva for as long as thirty-six hours. It can be found in urine for four days, and in hair for ninety days.

Morphine is an opiate drug, which means that – unlike other painkillers – it is not created in a lab. It is extracted directly from the opium poppy plant. This medication is frequently given to patient before, during and after surgical procedures. In some cases, it may be prescribed for outpatient use as well.

The half-life of morphine is only about two to three hours. This medication can have an effect that lasts as long as seven hours, which is a bit shorter than other opioid drugs. It can only be detected via blood test for up to twelve hours after the last dose. Urine tests can detect it for as long as three days, and for saliva tests, the window is four days.

Oxycodone (Oxycontin) is a drug that is also often given to patients with moderate to severe pain. They usually receive a prescription for it following a surgical procedure or an injury. It is one of the most popular drugs of abuse. In recent years, there have been attempts made to make it harder for people to abuse it by changing the drugs formulation.

This medication is often prescribed in extended release format. The pill releases the drug into the body over the span of twelve hours. It has a half-life of about 4.5 hours, which means it takes seven to eight hours to clear the body.

Oxycodone is detectable in urine for up to three days. A blood test will detect it for as long as twenty-four hours. A saliva test may detect it for up to four days and it is found in hair tests for three months.

Hydromorphone is not prescribed as often as other painkillers. It is highly addictive, and doctors usually prefer to give to patients in a hospital setting via IV or injection. It is frequently sold under the brand name, Dilaudid. Doctors may offer it to their patients if other pain medications are not effective.

When Dilaudid is taken orally, its elimination half-life is about four hours. It stays in the system for up to two or three days after the last dose.

Oxymorphone is a medication that is sold under the brand name, Opana. It is a very effective pain reliever, but because of its addictive potential, it is not often prescribed. It does work very well, and at one time, it was commonly prescribed to people experiencing pain from cancer treatments.

Oxymorphone stays in the system for up to five days. In animal tests, it took that long for up to 90% of the drug’s metabolites to pass through. It can be detected in urine tests for up to four days. The drug’s half-life is between nine and eleven hours.

The Metabolic Pathway for Pain Killing Drugs

Pain medications can be separated into three distinct categories. They include anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), paracetamol and opioids. Each one is cleared from the body in a different way, and will rely on its own metabolic pathway.

This classification refers to medications, such as Ibuprofen, Aleve and aspirin. NSAIDS are very accessible, but there are some that require a prescription, such as Celebrex and Daypro. They work by blocking COX enzymes from sending pain signals to the central nervous system.

The active compounds are broken down in the body by an enzyme called cytochrome P450. It can be found in many areas of the brain and other organs.

Paracetamol is more widely known as acetaminophen. It also goes by the brand name, Tylenol. This medication is metabolized in the liver. It is broken down into sulphate and glucuronide conjugates and then excreted via urine. This drug is easily removed from the body.

The liver also metabolizes prescription opioids. Once they enter, they undergo a process known as first-pass metabolism. This reduces the bioavailability of the drugs, and their potency. Once they are metabolized, they are removed from the body through the urine.

In comparison with the other painkillers, the metabolic pathway of prescription opioids is a bit more complicated. There are actually two of them.

The first relies on the cytochrome P450 enzyme. The other involves a process called glucuronidation. This pathway makes it easier for the drugs to bind to water. Both can be active at the same time, but the first one usually starts to work first.

Understand How Painkillers Affect the Body

When receiving a prescription for a painkiller from a doctor, it is important to understand the risks. Doctors should explain how the drug will affect the individual’s body and overall health. It is also a good idea to have a plan for weaning off the drug.

While most painkillers are quite effective, they can also be quite addictive. Sometimes people will even gravitate toward heroin once their pain medication prescriptions have run out, or their supply gets cut off.

Here at Ashwood Recovery, we offer a wide range of treatment programs and services. If you believe that you might be addicted, or if you know someone who is an addict, please contact us for help. We will assess your situation to determine what the best course of action might be.

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