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Opiates: 6-MAM (AM)

Opiate Metabolism
  • Heroin is rapidly hydrolyzed by conversion of an acetoxy group (-OCOCH3) to a hydroxyl group (-OH) by esterase enzymes in the brain to 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM or 6-AM). Trace amounts of 6-MAM are excreted for approximately six to eight hours following heroin use.
  • 6-MAM is hydrolyzed to morphine by replacement of the remaining acetoxy group (-OCOCH3) with a hydroxyl group (-OH) by esterase enzymes. The rest of the metabolic pathway follows that of morphine.
Heroin has an extremely short half-life of about two to six minutes. The half-life of 6-acetylmorphine is six to 25 minutes.
  • Because heroin has such a short life, its metabolites, 6-MAM and morphine, are quantitated in confirmatory testing of heroin. Heroin itself is rarely detected in drug tests.
  • The presence of 6-MAM in the presence of morphine is definitive proof of heroin use. However, the detection of morphine in the absence of 6-MAM does not rule out heroin use because 6-MAM is excreted for only a few hours after use.