How Long Does Opium Stay in Your System?

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Opium is found in the medications paregoric and opium tincture or laudanum, which are used to treat diarrhea by decreasing the stomach and intestinal movement in the digestive system. These drugs have largely been replaced by other non-narcotic medications but may be used when diarrhea isn't brought under control by other drugs. They may also be used for treating neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Where Opium Comes From

Opium comes from the seedpod of the opium poppy, which contains a variety of alkaloids that can be extracted, including morphine, codeine, and thebaine (paramorphine). These can be purified and used as opiate narcotic drugs for pain relief. Opium was used for pain relief for centuries before it was discovered how to purify it and extract morphine and codeine. It was smoked as well as ingested and still can be seen used in that way in some countries where it is produced.

How Opium Works in Your System

The active alkaloids in opium bind to opiate receptors in the brain, nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract. In the case of paregoric and laudanum, binding to receptors in the gastrointestinal tract can help relieve diarrhea by slowing down the gut. A side effect of all of the opiates can be constipation due to this slowing.

After taking a dose, the effects begin within 15 to 60 minutes and last 4 to 6 hours. Morphine (the active ingredient) has a short half-life, with half of it metabolized in 1.5 to 7 hours. Most of a single dose of morphine has been eliminated in the urine within 72 hours.

It's important to take paregoric on the schedule determined by your doctor to avoid overdose. You also must discuss all of your prescription and nonprescription medications with your doctor to avoid dangerous interactions. Especially discuss pain relievers, antidepressants, cough medicine, cold medicine, allergy medicine, sedatives, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and vitamins.

Also make sure your doctor knows your history of liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, or prostatic disease.

It is best to avoid alcohol while taking paregoric as it can enhance the drowsiness that the drug produces.

Prolonged use can produce dependence and the risk of addiction.

Unpleasant Side-Effects of Opium

The opium in paregoric can have unpleasant side-effects including:

  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness

The drowsiness produced by the morphine can be dangerous when driving or operating machinery, so use caution.

If you experience difficulty breathing, this is a serious side effect. Contact your doctor or the medical emergency line immediately.

How Opium Is Eliminated From Your Body

The morphine in paregoric is broken down and excreted in the urine, with most of a single dose eliminated in 72 hours. However, with longer or heavier dosage it may take longer to clear from your system.

Be aware that if you have a urine drug screen while you are taking paregoric or laudanum you will likely test positive for morphine and codeine. Be sure to disclose your prescription to the testing lab so your results can be properly interpreted.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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