Updated on November 8, 2023
6 min read

What Does Black Heroin Look Like and Why is it Dangerous?

What is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is an extra dangerous form of heroin. It is dark in color and feels like roofing tar or coal.

Its dark color is due to the crude processing methods that leave behind impurities. Black tar heroin is usually cut with other low-quality substances.

Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug made from processed morphine. Opium poppy plants, grown in Colombia, Mexico, and Southern Asia, yield morphine.

Mexico produces most of these forms of heroin. It gets smuggled over the border and distributed within the United States.

It is more popular west of the Mississippi River and winds up on the streets of cities like Los Angeles. However, it has made its way to the northeast and is found in New York City, parts of Canada, and even Europe.

Black tar heroin is less refined and cheaper than other types of heroin, such as white powder and brown powder. Because of its low price and widespread availability it plays a substantial role in the current opioid epidemic.

Most users inject black tar heroin after dissolving and diluting it, while others choose to smoke the substance.

Approximately 75 percent of black tar heroin is cut with toxic additives and contaminants. This gives it a sticky, tar-like texture.

The consistency can clog injection needles and users’ blood vessels. This increases the risk of damage to your kidneys, brain, liver, and lungs.


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Who Uses Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin addiction is usually divided into two categories:

  • Heroin inhalers
  • Injection drug users

Inhalers typically have higher wages and fewer problems according to the Addiction Severity Index (ASI). Injection users often are older, have experienced jail time, have gone to rehab, and have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, or gonorrhea.

“There were high levels of physical and mental problems and histories of traumatization as children and adults for almost all the respondents. Males were as likely as females to have been sexually abused as children or as adults.”

An Exploratory Study of Inhalers and Injectors Who Used Black Tar Heroin

What Does Black Tar Heroin Look Like?

Black tar heroin varies from dark gray to obsidian. Its consistency is sticky and tar-like. Sometimes you can see little chunks of impurities mixed in.

Black Tar Heroin
Black Tar Heroin 2
Black Tar Heroin 4
Black Tar Heroin 3

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Health Effects of Black Tar Heroin

The effects of black tar heroin are similar to conventional powder heroin. Both substances have serious adverse impacts on your health.

Common side effects of heroin include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Collapsed veins
  • Abscesses
  • Constipation
  • Gastrointestinal cramping
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Soft-tissue infections
  • Vascular sclerosis (hardened arteries)
  • Fatal overdose

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. Addiction and tolerance can develop after just one use.

Withdrawal symptoms begin 8 to 24 hours after the last use and can last 4 to 10 days. The withdrawal symptoms are so severe it compels users to seek more of the drug to end their discomfort. 

However, black tar heroin use also comes with its own set of unique health problems.

Black tar users face an increased danger of developing

  • Venous sclerosis (hardened veins)
  • Necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease)

“Users interviewed with experience of both PH (powdered heroin) and BTH (black tar heroin) reported much more vein damage from black tar.”

Journal of Psychoactive Drugs

Black tar heroin users often struggle to inject the drug due to their damaged veins and arteries. This leads them to try “skin popping” or "muscling."

Skin popping is injecting a drug into the layer of tissue between the skin and muscle (subcutaneous tissue). Muscling is injecting a drug into the muscle.

Both of these methods are painful and can cause abscesses and other bacterial infections. 

Wound Botulism

Multiple reports have linked black tar heroin to botulism. Botulism is a rare illness that develops from bacteria infecting a wound. The toxin attacks your body’s nerves, making it difficult to breathe and causing muscle weakness. 

In severe cases, people can die from wound botulism. Even if they are treated with antitoxin, they may need to stay in the hospital for weeks or months to recover.

Heroin Overdose

The rate of heroin overdose has been increasing at a staggering rate. One of the reasons is the rise in the popularity of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an even more potent opioid linked to many heroin overdoses. Anyone who uses heroin is at risk for overdose. 

The rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin raised from 0.7 to 1 percent in 2010, then increased enormously to 4.9 percent in 2016 and 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHS Data Brief

Signs of heroin overdose include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Small pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Weak pulse
  • Blue nails, skin, or lips
  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Coma

If you’re with someone who is overdosing on heroin, call 911 immediately. “Good Samaritan” laws protect people who call 911 to report an overdose in 40 states. Saving someone’s life is more important than criminal charges.

In the last two decades, heroin has played a significant role in the opioid crisis. Heroin overdoses have increased by nearly 500 percent over the previous ten years. Heroin now kills more people each year than traffic accidents. 

Treatment Options for Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Black tar heroin addiction treatment is similar to other opioid treatment approaches. Behavioral therapy is the foundation of treatment. Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is often added to the treatment program.

Seeking help at a professional treatment center help will greatly increase your chances of recovery.

Contact a local rehab center to find out about their services. If you have a history of mental health problems, be sure that they offer dual-diagnosis treatment.

A comprehensive heroin recovery program should include:

Heroin addiction causes extensive changes to the brain. Many heroin users do not believe that they can overcome their substance use disorder (SUD).

However, with professional treatment, anyone can overcome their substance abuse problem and learn to live a sober life.

There are several options for people suffering from heroin addiction. These include:

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

There are three medications approved to treat opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.

Buprenorphine and methadone can help you manage withdrawal symptoms throughout the detoxification process.

Naltrexone is less commonly used, but it blocks your opioid receptors, making it impossible to get high. Medication-assisted therapy is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment.

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs are the most intensive and effective treatment options for opioid addiction.

These programs guide you through medically supervised detoxification, then behavioral therapy and other services (possibly including MAT), will be added to your treatment.

They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days. However, they may be longer if necessary.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are also known as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). They are the next most intensive type of treatment for opioid addiction. They provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification, behavioral therapy medical services, and custom treatments such as MAT.

The difference is that in a PHP, the patient returns home to sleep. Some programs will include transportation and meals, but this varies by program.

Partial hospitalization programs are helpful for both new patients and patients who have completed inpatient treatment and still need intensive recovery therapy.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs work best for people who have a high level of motivation to recover. They create treatment programs that work around your schedule.

These programs can either be an effective treatment option for new patients or a part of an aftercare program for people who complete inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

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Updated on November 8, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on November 8, 2023
  1. Mars, Sarah G et al. “The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on "Black Tar" and Powder Heroin in Two U.S. Cities.” Journal of psychoactive drugs vol. 48,4 : 270-8. doi:10.1080/02791072.2016.1207826, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027195/.

  2. NIDA. "Heroin." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 8 Jun. 2018, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin.

  3. Maxwell, Jane Carlisle, and Richard T Spence. “An Exploratory Study of Inhalers and Injectors Who Used Black Tar Heroin.” Journal of maintenance in the addictions vol. 3,1 : 61-82. doi:10.1300/J126v03n01_06, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088121/.

  4. “Injection Drug Use and Wound Botulism.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Oct. 2018, www.cdc.gov/botulism/wound-botulism.html.

  5. NIDA. "Overdose Death Rates." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 10 Mar. 2020, https://nida.nih.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.

  6. “Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html.

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