Norco is one of the brand-name medications that combine acetaminophen and hydrocodone. It was approved in 1997 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is manufactured by Watson Pharmaceuticals. While the most notorious combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone is Vicodin, Norco is also misused and abused by many.

Hydrocodone is an opioid medication that was widely prescribed in the late 1990s and early 2000s alongside oxycodone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed at pharmacies across the U.S. in 2017 alone.

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are two of the drugs that drove the early part of the opioid abuse epidemic in the country. While many people have turned to heroin as their main opioid of abuse, lax prescribing practices with opioid painkillers are considered the reason for the current epidemic.

Acetaminophen is also a painkiller, but it is in the family of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are considered safe for over-the-counter use in certain doses. It is dangerous to take more than 4,000 milligrams (4 grams) of acetaminophen per day. Doing so will lead to acute liver failure and other overdose symptoms, which will require hospitalization and, if untreated, can lead to death. Each dose of Norco contains 325 milligrams of acetaminophen, no matter how much hydrocodone it contains.

If you struggle with Norco addiction or you love someone who abuses this drug, it is important to get help with detoxing from the medication. When you enter a medically supervised treatment program, detox and rehabilitation specialists will use routine drug testing to monitor how much Norco remains in your body and if you have relapsed back into substance abuse during treatment. Different drug tests give different information about when and how you took Norco, depending on what metabolites are examined.

Different Drug Tests Detect Norco in the Body for Different Times

Drug tests for hydrocodone-containing medications like Norco are searching for specific metabolites of the drug, based on the painkiller being broken down in the digestive system. These metabolites are glucuronide conjugates (UGT) or nor metabolites (CYP3A4). There may be other morphine-related metabolites examined in the test since hydrocodone is one of the many prescription painkillers derived from morphine.

It could be difficult to determine specifically if a hydrocodone-based drug like Norco was the substance abused due to the breakdown of metabolites indicating a range of opioids, including morphine or codeine. Most tests will indicate some opioid drug in the body, and for rehabilitation programs, this can indicate potential relapse.

  • Hair: Drug testing on strands of hair typically seeks information on any past use of drugs like Norco. Unlike other drug tests, hair testing does not inform the tester whether you have recently taken Norco or other substances. It can instead give information about your past 90 days (three months) of drug use. 
  • Urine: This is the most frequently used and least invasive form of drug testing. Urine tests determine recent drug use within a window of a few hours to days, depending on the substance. Opioid drugs like hydrocodone (found in Norco) can be detected for two to four days after the drug is consumed. 
  • Blood: This is another highly accurate form of drug testing that can determine if you have abused a drug like Norco within the past few hours to days. It is not used as the first line of screening in most instances because it is considered invasive. 
  • Saliva: This form of drug testing is more likely to be used by law enforcement than detox and rehabilitation programs because it can determine drug abuse within a few hours rather than days. This window can help police or doctors understand what drugs a person has recently abused to determine if they were driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example. Metabolites from hydrocodone can be detected in saliva for 12 hours to 36 hours after it was abused. 
  • Sweat: Although it is rarely used, sweat testing can determine if you have abused opioids like Norco in the past one to two weeks. Metabolites can be excreted through the sweat glands for seven to 14 days after an opioid is consumed. 
  • Breath: The most famous form of breath testing is the Breathalyzer, typically used during police stops for potential drunk driving. Metabolites from alcohol can be found on the breath for hours after the intoxicant is consumed, depending on how much alcohol the person drank. Sometimes, metabolites from other drugs like opioids can be found on the breath, but this is a much less reliable form of testing for most drugs other than alcohol. 

How Long Does It Take For Norco to Fully Leave the Body?

Typically, a 10-milligram dose of hydrocodone taken orally reaches its peak intoxication in 1.3 hours after it is consumed because it has to move through the digestive system. While the euphoric effects may last for a couple of hours, metabolites from the drug remain in the body after the primary effects wear off. For people who struggle with the abuse of hydrocodone drugs like Norco, this increases the risk of overdose because the individual is likely to take more of the drug before it has completely metabolized out of the body.

Hydrocodone’s half-life is 3.8 hours, meaning that half of the dose has been metabolized out of the body in that time. The full elimination time for hydrocodone is more than seven hours.

The average amount of time a drug like hydrocodone is detectable in the body is based on healthy, average adults.

However, several individual factors change how long a substance can be detected and how long it takes to eliminate it from the body.

Among them are:

  • Body fat content
  • Weight, including muscle mass
  • Genetics and family history
  • Digestive metabolism
  • Liver and kidney health, which are impacted by acetaminophen
  • How long hydrocodone has been abused
  • How much hydrocodone is abused
  • If other opioids have been taken in the past
  • Other prescription or illicit drugs that are taken
  • Alcohol abuse

When you are in a detox program, your physician will typically advise you to wait for one to two full days before determining if you need medication-assisted treatment (MAT) like buprenorphine to ease your withdrawal symptoms. It takes some time for hydrocodone drugs like Norco to be eliminated from the body and for withdrawal symptoms like discomfort, cravings, and fatigue to begin. An addiction specialist will gauge how serious your withdrawal symptoms are before creating the full detox and recovery treatment plan.

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