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  • Identifying Street Heroin

    Heroin is quite popular in the streets and has a reputation for being one of the most notorious drugs with the some of the worst effects on its users.

    What does Heroin Look Like?


    Heroin is sold in large quantities as a party drug.  Its use has been spreading so much and so fast, a situation that has gotten so bad, that the drug has been listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that you can do time for illegal possession. Heroin, the scientific name of which is diacetylmorphine, is made from morphine, as the name implies, which is a naturally occurring substance.

    How Was Heroin Created?

    Morphine is extracted from the seed pod of some Asian poppy plants. In 1874 when heroin was successfully synthesized by a British chemist, C. R. Adler, he could not have known that his discovery would become a big problem. The substance which was made with the sole aim of developing a more effective painkiller (it was discovered to be twice as strong as morphine) without the addictive properties that morphine seemed to come with. His project, unfortunately, produced a worse version of morphine, as heroin is the fastest acting opiate and is even more addictive. Years later, heroin is not only killing pain but causing pain and destroying lives for a temporary high.

    What Does Heroin Look Like?

    White powder heroin

    White powder heroin

    Heroin is manufactured and distributed in different forms, varying in concentration and purity, therefore there is simply no one answer to the question – what does heroin look like? There is a brown heroin which is known for its easy processing and easy-to-smoke features. There is a white heroin which is considered to be the most refined of all.

    There is also black tar heroin (of Mexican origin) which is by far the fastest and cheapest form to produce, even though it contains a generally low percentage of the actual drug. We will expand more on this drug further on in the article.

    It is very common to “cut” heroin, that is, to mix it with other impurities so as to reduce its potency and/or maximize the profit made from selling it. Substances used for this purpose are usually relatively harmless powders such as chalk, flour, sucrose, talcum powder, starch etc. These impurities also affect the appearance of the drug, changing its color to anything from white, brown, rose-gray to black.

    Heroin is preferred by drug users because it can be snorted or smoked, which eliminates the need for syringes. As a result, the risks connected to sharing needles such as contracting deadly infections like HIV and Hepatitis, are eliminated. However, the mode of usage does not reduce the risk of becoming addicted to it as commonly misconstrued.

    Black Tar Heroin

    Black tar heroin is simply a different form of heroin, which derives its name from its similar appearance to tar used for roofing. It is black and sticky to the touch and is the only type of heroin that is not a powder. When purchased on the streets it is sold, wrapped up in cellophane and then often placed into balloons for sale.

    Who Uses It?

    Black tar heroin

    Black tar heroin

    It’s usually bought and used by experienced heroin addicts because of its form of administration. White or even brown heroin you can smoke, snort or inject, but black tar heroin users usually stick to injecting it. This is due to the fact that it is not pure enough to get much of a high from smoking or snorting it. Therefore, for it to be effective it is dissolved and then injected via syringe into a vein, under the skin or straight into a muscle.

    Black tar heroin would likely never be someone’s first choice, but long-term addicts use it because it is cheap and staves off withdrawal effects.

    How Does Black Tar Heroin End Up In America?

    The majority of black tar heroin crosses over to the US through the Mexican border. America has a long history of drug smuggling from Mexico, initially getting a majority of its brown heroin from there. But following the influx of pure white heroin from Afghanistan brown heroin’s popularity diminished. Mexico decided to change tactics and switched to producing and smuggling black tar heroin, which is far less pure than the white or even brown heroin, usually averaging at about 25-30% at best. What makes it so appealing to drug users is its price, which is relatively lower than white heroin. Black tar heroin mainly is distributed around the West Coast, with Los Angeles as its hot spot for distribution. Law enforcement has commented that they see a divide, with black tar dominating west of the Mississippi and white powdered heroin the east. This makes sense if we look at the source of both forms of the drug.

    How Does A Heroin Addiction Begin?

    As we’ve already mentioned heroin is an opioid, which means it works on the opioid receptors in the brain, giving effects similar to those of morphine. There are many prescription medications that are structurally very similar, such as pain relievers and anesthetics.

    In 1995, in America, following the approval of a new opioid painkiller, OxyContin, there was a surge of doctors prescribing it. Its addictive properties were severely downplayed and people were receiving prescriptions to treat post-surgery pain and pain from injuries. Even teens experiencing pain from wisdom teeth removal surgery were given these highly addictive painkillers. It is incredibly important to remember that opioid painkillers are meant for short-term use for severe pain. Unfortunately, even people using the medication for valid reasons can very easily become dependant on it. This means that the body requires it to function normally and if it doesn’t get it, withdrawal symptoms appear. With frequent use, the body also builds up a tolerance to its effects, meaning it requires more and more medication to have the same desired result.

    Turning To The Street Alternatives

    If this occurs users often turn to buying their medication on the streets once their prescription runs out. Doing so can be incredibly expensive, with one tablet of OxyContin costing anywhere from $40- $80 according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. This drives many people to turn to cheaper alternatives, such as heroin. It has similar effects to opioid medication, even down to the high. There are frightening statistics that show just how dangerous this path can be, with 80% of current heroin addicts admitting that before they turned to heroin they abused prescription opioid medication.

    Other factors that may affect people’s choice to turn to heroin is a history of drug and alcohol abuse or having a family history of such abuse.

    Black Tar Heroin’s Effects

    When any type of heroin hits the brain it releases a feeling of euphoria, which is caused by the substance changing to morphine in the brain, flooding it with dopamine. This high is the main reason people choose to keep using heroin and why it has become so popular. Other symptoms occur along with the high, including:

    • Sleepiness
    • Cottonmouth (dryness of the mouth)
    • Unclear, foggy thinking
    • Rosy skin
    • A sensation of having your limbs weighted down

    Risks of black tar heroin

    There are multiple risks associated with heroin use of any kind, especially injection. But black tar heroin provides a whole new danger due to the many toxic substances that are often cut in with the drug. If black tar heroin at its best is 25-30% pure then the 70% is composed of toxic additives which are unknown to the user. Because of those toxins, black tar heroin can cause permanent damage to internal organs. Some specific risks associated with injecting black tar heroin include:

    • Soft tissue infection (infections surrounding the wound where users have injected)
    • Wound botulism ( this happens when the bacteria Clostridium botulinum comes in contact with a wound. This can lead to paralysis)
    • Gas gangrene ( another bacteria which when in contact with a wound causes the surrounding flesh to die)
    • Tetanus (a risk for any injected drug)
    • Necrotizing fasciitis (this is a flesh-eating disease caused by bacteria contacting an injection site)

    Overdose is a huge risk when talking about black tar heroin. It may be incredibly difficult to predict how much pure heroin will be in the product purchased, making accurate dosing incredibly difficult. Also, the possibility of the heroin being cut with a substance which increases its potency, such as Fentanyl, increases the risk as well.

    Street Names for Heroin

    You won’t find addicts or drug users talking about drugs openly in society. They prefer to use code words to mask the truth in order to avoid legal repercussions. Over the years, there have been a lot of street names developed for heroin because of its popularity. Some of the well-known street names include:

    Street Heroin Packaging

    Packaged Heroin

    Packaged Heroin

    Heroin is sold on the streets in nifty little packs or capsules that are easy to conceal and are usually weatherproof. This is necessary since they are quickly exchanged for money in operations that need to be fast and hard to notice. Also, the packaging is usually branded, as some sort of quality assurance due to the vastly different ranges of purities and forms the heroin comes in. Some of the most popular packaging techniques include:

    • Aluminum squares: This method is used to package heroin in its white powder form.
    • Latex: Heroin, usually in the form of black tar is tied in latex material, usually from balloons.
    • Capsules: Regular drugs that come in capsules are emptied out and replaced with heroin powder.
    • Ziploc bags: Small Ziploc bags are used to package heroin when it is required in higher quantities especially when it is meant to be resold.

    Heroin Paraphernalia


    There are a lot of items that heroin users rely upon to introduce the drug into their systems. Heroin is consumed in a lot of ways and all of them require different items for their respective uses. Some of these items and their use are as follows:

    • Aluminum foil and lighters: The heroin is placed on the foil and lit at the bottom with the lighter. The heat causes the heroin to burn and make fumes which are inhaled directly or via a tube.
    • Syringes: The heroin is mixed into a solution and injected directly into a vein. This is probably the most unsafe method of using heroin because it is common to share needles or use the same puncture point multiple times till it gets infected.
    • Spoons: These can be used just like the aluminum foil to heat the heroin but this method is used for intravenous injection.
    • Cotton balls or cigarette filters: These are used to filter the heroin prior to injection

    Heroin users always come up with new and ingenious ways to get heroin into their system. The above are just some of the common paraphernalia known to be used that you should keep your eyes out for if you suspect a loved one of heroin use.