When you take a drug, your body will need time to process it and remove it from your system. Different drugs move through the body at different speeds. Some offer short durations of effectiveness and dissipate quickly, while others last for hours and can be detected in your body for even longer. But what about methadone, a drug commonly used in addiction treatment? How long does it stay active in your body, and how long can it be detected in drug tests?
Learn more about methadone, drug testing, and how long this opioid will remain in your body.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a medication that’s used in the treatment of opioid use disorders, and it may also be used as a prescription painkiller, in some cases. Methadone is used in what’s called medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which involves the use of opioid drugs to treat opioid addiction by replacing a harmful dependence on illicit drugs with medications that are easier to manage.
MAT typically involves the combination of opioid medications alongside addiction therapies. The combination of the two approaches to treatment is where MAT drugs have been the most effective. However, in many cases, Methadone is used in what’s called methadone maintenance, which is when an opioid addiction is replaced with methadone indefinitely, with no clear treatment plan to eventually stop using the drug.
Methadone is a controversial drug in MAT. People that use it are still dependent on an opioid, which means they have to continue taking the drug to avoid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is also reported to cause intense withdrawal symptoms that may be even more difficult to get over than some other opioids. Methadone can also be abused for a euphoric high. Large doses of the drug can also lead to a potentially deadly overdose. Because methadone is potentially dangerous and has a significant risk of abuse, it’s often dispensed in daily doses each day.
When considering the length of time a drug will stay in your system, one of the biggest factors is its biological half-life. A half-life is the amount of time a drug takes to be reduced to half of its original concentration in your blood. When a drug enters your body, it will be processed by being filtered out of your blood by your liver, broken down, and eliminated through your urine, sweat, or other means. A drug’s half-life is a good indication of how long it will remain active in your system. Once it’s reduced to its half-life, the drug’s effects will start to wear off. When it comes to methadone, its half-life marks the time your drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms may start to return.
Methadone’s half-life is around 24 hours. For that reason, people in a methadone maintenance program must return to a methadone clinic each day, around the same time. The 24-hour half-life and the loss of the drug’s effectiveness around that time, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be gone from your system. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that the drug will be completely eliminated after 48 hours. Drugs can linger in your body in trace amounts for long periods of time. If your concern is how long the drug will remain active, the half-life and duration of action are key. But if you are concerned about the drug’s detectability in your body, that’s another matter.
How Drug Testing Works
Drug tests are common to encounter in both professional and legal settings. People in addiction recovery may also go through drug tests regularly as a part of treatment programs or as a requirement for staying in sober living environments.
However, one of the most important reasons to be aware of the drugs in your system is the need for drug testing for potential employers. Not every industry requires it, but some jobs will ask you to submit to a drug screening before you start your first day of work. When you take a drug test, it’s important to disclose any medications you are taking that might show up or complicate the test.
If you’ve recently stopped taking methadone, how long do you have to wait before you don’t need to disclose that you’ve been taking the drug? That depends on the type of drug test you’re going through.
There are a few major types of drug tests that look for common chemicals and their metabolites that are exiting your body through different routes. Screenings may test your saliva, blood, urine, and hair, with each one yielding positive results for different lengths of time after your last dose.
- Blood. Blood tests to find drugs typically have the shortest window of time before the test will turn out negative. Blood tests are often used to determine very recent drug use or to establish current intoxication. Methadone can be detected in the blood for 24 hours.
- Saliva. Saliva is a minimally invasive drug testing method, but it’s often not as reliable as other methods. Drugs can be detected in your saliva for different duration, depending on the drug itself. Methadone lasts longer in the saliva and can last from one to ten days.
- Urine. Urine is the gold standard of drug tests. It’s the most reliable and results in the fewest instances of false flags, though it’s still possible. Urine can often reveal drug use within the past week or so, which is usually indicative of current drug use, even if a person isn’t currently intoxicated. Methadone can be detected in urine for six to 12 days.
- Hair. Hair follicles can contain traces of drugs and chemical substances for the longest period of time. However, it’s controversial as a method of drug testing. In some cases, drugs can be found in hair for months after your last dose. That means you can go through the complete continuum of care in addiction treatment and still test positive for certain substances. Methadone can show up in hair follicles for 90 days.
Seeking Addiction Treatment
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder related to opioids or methadone, you should seek addiction treatment options as soon as possible. Addiction is a chronic disease, and if it’s left untreated, it can get worse over time. Substance use disorders are progressive, and they may start to affect different aspects of your life, like your health, relationships, and finances.
Addiction is treatable, and seeking addiction treatment can help you avoid some of the worst consequences of the disease. Still, no matter where you are in the disease of addiction, treatment may be able to help you achieve lasting recovery. To take the first steps toward freedom from active addiction, start to learn more about addiction treatment and how it may be able to help you.