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Since the start of the opioid crisis, there has been much more discussion of opioids and what these drugs do in your system, which can sometimes be confusing if you’ve been prescribed opiate medication.

Much information cross-applies to both types of medication because opioids and opiates work similarly, but there are some differences. 

The higher drug enforcement rate has also meant that even people with legitimate prescriptions for the drugs they use are facing higher testing rates and have many more questions about their medications. 

The high level of criticism of opioids is also, unfortunately, pushing some drug users to opiates instead of opioids, hoping that they will be safer and less likely to be adulterated with higher-strength drugs or even other drugs entirely. 

Unfortunately, that means many more people need basic information about opiates, how long they stay in your system, and how long opiates can stay in urine. 

Here’s what you need to know, along with some more information about opiates in general and the side effects and risks of taking these drugs, regardless of whether you’re taking them illegally or with a prescription. 

How Long Do Opiate Pain Medications Stay In Urine?

Most people worry about how long a medication will stay in their urine for one of two reasons. Either they have a legitimate prescription and are worried that they will have mandatory drug testing at work after they take that prescription, or they are worried about drug testing after using illegal drugs. 

In either case, we’re providing this information for educational purposes only. It’s never a good idea to try and falsify a drug test, and good alternatives are available for people who are taking a drug legitimately. 

That said, opiates don’t tend to persist in your body for very long unless you are also dealing with a liver or kidney problem that might change their metabolic rates in your body. 

They’re very similar to opioids in how your body deals with them and processes them, which makes sense since opiates and opioids are the same kinds of drugs, with differences in how they are made and the intended potency and best use. 

So, because opioids have often been studied more and have more recent information about them, we will be using some information about opioids to inform this article because that’s often the most recent and most accurate information about these types of drugs. 

That said, typically, an opiate will be detectible in your urine for about 3-4 days, assuming you have a typical metabolism and don’t have any reasons that the drug would be processed more slowly than average. 

That means that the opiate will be in your system for up to 4 days after you last took the drug. So if you’re taking an opiate regularly, like if you’re using cough syrup with codeine to treat a cold, you will have detectible levels of opiates in your urine the whole time you are taking the medication and for up to 4 days after your last dose. 

If you’re wondering about other drug tests, every test will have a different detection period. For instance, most blood tests only detect opiates used in the last 24 hours, while hair follicle tests can detect opiates for up to 3-4 months after you stop using the drug, depending on the test and how much hair is collected. 

how long will opiates stay in my system?

Do Different Opiates Stay In Your System Longer? 

Not generally. Opiates and opioids are treated the same way in the body. The main differences are just how strong they are and how much you take. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates because opiates are derived from natural sources. 

For example, someone taking cough syrup with codeine will get a less potent opiate and a lower dose compared with someone using heroin, another opiate. However, the body will metabolize those drugs in the same way. 

Drug tests don’t always rely on the presence of the drug itself in the test sample. Often, they can also look for chemicals that result from the natural breakdown of the drug in your body over time. 

The one exception to these drugs having roughly similar detection times is if you’ve had liver or kidney damage due to taking them. In some cases, people who take large doses of these drugs, especially without a prescription, may cause liver damage that slows down the process of eliminating the drug from your system. 

What Are Opiate Pain Medications Properly Used For? 

Opiates are some of the most common targets of abuse, but there are legitimate medical reasons to use many of these medications. Some, like heroin, have no legitimate uses, but many are used for medical reasons. 

The most common reason doctors prescribe opiate pain medications is for moderate to severe pain, like a back injury, broken bone, or during recovery from surgery. 

Some opiates, like codeine, are suitable for more mild pain, but most of the time, this class of medications is reserved for more difficult situations. 

Some opiates, specifically heroin, aren’t used because the risks of using those drugs outweigh the potential benefits patients could get from them. Those drugs are illegal and can’t be gotten with a prescription. 

People who use those drugs are much more likely to be dealing with an addiction, even if their use started with legitimate pain or a prescription for a different opiate. 

If I Have An Opiate Prescription, And My Job Drug Tests, What Do I Do? 

The most important thing is not to panic and not to try and falsify the test. 

If you have a prescription, tell the person doing the drug test. Tell them what medication you’re taking and, if possible, what dose. Then let HR know what happened and that you are taking a prescription that might appear on the test. If they have further questions about it, just be honest. 

For most jobs, as long as you aren’t operating heavy machinery or otherwise doing things that require you to be sober for legal reasons, you should be fine. 

And if you work a job that needs you to be sober and you need to be on heavy medication like an opiate for a few days, let them know and ask about going on light duty or doing something else while you’re still taking the medication. 

Side Effects And Risks Of Taking Opiates

Even when you’re using opiates properly, there can be side effects and risks that come with the medication. People taking an opiate without a prescription are at greater risk than average for more side effects or more severe versions of the common side effects. 

Side Effects

Here are some of the most common side effects of opiate drugs: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Constipation
  • Flushed skin
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness 

Possible Risks

The biggest risk of opiate drugs is the risk of overdose, especially if you are taking illegal opiates from an unreliable source. 

Symptoms of overdose include: 

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nausea
  • Stomach spasms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Breathing issues
  • Seizures
  • Blue-ish fingertips and lips

People who take opiates for a long time or in large doses are also at risk of other problems, like kidney and liver damage. 

Addiction is also one of the biggest risks of taking opiates, even with a prescription and especially without one. Addiction can start without you noticing. People who take pain medications for a long time might be especially prone to addiction and might need additional support to overcome their addiction, especially if the source of the pain is still there. 

The good news is that there are plenty of treatment options for opiate addiction, even for the most complicated case of addiction. 

how to get help with opiate addiction

How To Get Help With Opiate Addiction

If you or someone close to you is dealing with opiate addiction, it can feel like there aren’t many options for you, especially if you don’t know what options are available. The good news is that there are probably more options for addiction treatment than you expect and many different options for addiction and recovery. 

If you’re looking for a flexible addiction treatment center and professionals familiar with a wide range of therapies and treatment options, we can help. At Absolute Awakenings, we focus on helping you recover and maintain that recovery in the long term by offering support and helping you identify the reasons for your addiction and the triggers that might affect your recovery. 

If you’re ready to overcome addiction, call or message Absolute Awakenings. We’re happy to answer any questions or help you enroll in the right treatment program. 



  1. How Long Does Oxycodone Stay in Your System? Verywell Mind. Accessed January 27, 2023.
  2. Brewer A. Opiates vs. Opioids: What’s the Difference Between Them? GoodRx. Published May 31, 2022. Accessed January 27, 2023.
  3. Haghighi AS. What are opioids? Everything you need to know. Published September 17, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2023.

Absolute Awakenings Treatment Center Editoral Guideline

At Absolute Awakenings, we take information integrity seriously. We have dedicated our resources to ensure that all content published to our blog is medically sound. As such, all content on our blog has been thoroughly reviewed by a doctorate level clinician such as a Medical Doctor, or Psy.D, so that you can trust all of the data we publish.

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