Identifying Black Tar Heroin
Black tar heroin is a specific variety of heroin.
It is much different in appearance than the common powder form of the drug, which if usually either white or brown in color. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), black tar heroin comes in the form of a dark, sticky substance.1 Distinguishing between the powder and black tar forms of heroin is easy, even for the untrained eye, since black tar gets its name from its resemblance to roofing tar.
All forms of heroin are derived from morphine, a powerful opioid painkiller. Black tar heroin is primarily produced in Mexico, according to the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Some South American and Asian countries have also been known to export the drug. Due to the large Mexican supply, black tar heroin is prevalent in the western portion of the United States, and cities like Los Angeles see a lot of black tar heroin use.2
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Effects of Black Tar Heroin
When heroin enters the system, it quickly makes its way to the brain, where it changes back into morphine. It can bring on a sense of euphoria in a user, which is the primary reason for the popularity of this particular drug. Other short-term effects include:
- Heavy limbs
- Clouded thinking
- Flushed skin
- Dry mouth
- Nodding off
How It’s Used
Primary methods of use for black tar heroin include smoking or injecting the drug. In some instances, heroin is snorted, but it’s not as common as other methods of ingestion. Since the drug can be dissolved in water quite easily, injection drug use is common. Paraphernalia commonly associated with injecting heroin include:
- A spoon
- Aluminum foil
- Cotton balls
- A belt to tie off the arm, making veins more prominent
Users who smoke heroin often use a lighter to burn the substance after placing it on a small piece of aluminum foil. They will usually inhale the substance through some kind of small funneling object.
The use of any kind of heroin, including black tar heroin, is extremely hazardous to one’s health. Injecting the drug intravenously can lead to venous sclerosis, a condition that results in the narrowing and hardening of veins. This can make is very difficult for a user to inject the drug into that same vein in the future. Eventually, veins can collapse altogether, leading users to inject the drug elsewhere on the body, even into muscle. Bacterial infection is another serious health risk associated with the use of black tar heroin. Infections, such as necrotizing fasciitis, can be life-threatening in a very short amount of time due to how quickly they can spread.3
Wound botulism, another disease caused by bacteria, can also arise from black tar heroin use; most patients treated for this condition are heroin users.4 If untreated, wound botulism can lead to paralysis and even death. There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed if prompt care is sought.
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The Importance of Professional Treatment
Black tar heroin is easily distinguishable in appearance due to its dark color and sticky consistency. As black tar heroin is a significant drug of abuse that leads to severe addictions, comprehensive addiction treatment is needed for those who abuse the drug. Anyone struggling with abuse should seek professional help, as both the short-term and long-term ramifications of heroin use can be dire.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Heroin Drug Facts.
- The United States Department of Justice. (2001). California Central District Threat Assessment.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Necrotizing Fasciitis: All You Need to Know.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injection Drug Use and Wound Botulism.