Time of drug elimination in chronic drug abusers. Case study of 52 patients in a "low-step" detoxification ward

Forensic Sci Int. 2001 Jun 15;119(2):248-53. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(00)00437-0.


The elimination time of illicit drugs and their metabolites is of both clinical and forensic interest. In order to determine the elimination time for various drugs and their metabolites we recruited 52 volunteers in a protected, low-step detoxification program. Blood samples were taken from each volunteer for the first 7 days, daily, urine sample for the first 3 weeks, daily. Urine was analyzed using a fluorescence-polarization immunoassay (FPIA) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), serum using GC/MS. The elimination times of the drugs and/or their metabolites in urine and serum as well as the tolerance intervals/confidence intervals were determined. Due to the sometimes extremely high initial concentrations and low cut-off values, a few of the volunteers had markedly longer elimination times than those described in the literature. The cut-off values were as follows: barbiturates II (200ng/ml), cannabinoids (20ng/ml), cocaine metabolites (300ng/ml), opiates (200ng/ml). GC/MS detected the following maximum elimination times: total morphine in urine up to 270.3h, total morphine and free morphine in serum up to 121.3h, monoacetylmorphine in urine up to 34.5h, 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH) in urine up to 433.5h, THC-COOH in serum up to 74.3h, total codeine in urine up to 123h, free codeine in urine up to 97.5h, total codeine in serum up to 29h, free codeine in serum up to 6.3h, total dihydrocodeine (DHC) in urine up to 314.8h, free DHC in urine up to 273.3h, total and free DHC in serum up to 50.1h. Cocaine and its metabolites were largely undetectable in the present study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Fluorescence Polarization Immunoassay
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hospital Units
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Prospective Studies
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Time Factors


  • Illicit Drugs