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Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive drug that has destroyed many lives. A form of heroin called “black tar heroin” has been spreading across certain parts of the United States. If you or someone you know is using black tar heroin, it’s important to understand exactly what it is and how dangerous it can be.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, which comes from the opium poppy plant. It can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance called black tar heroin.

About 920,000 Americans used heroin in 2019. It’s extremely addictive, with nearly one in four people who try it becoming dependent. Quitting “cold turkey” causes severe withdrawal symptoms, making heroin very hard to stop using without help. Heroin overdoses killed over 15,000 Americans in 2018 and that number of deaths continues rising each year.

Is heroin a depressant?
Yes. Unlike a stimulant, heroin is a depressant that slows down the body’s functions.

What does heroin feel like?
Heroin attaches to opioid receptors (or proteins) in the brain causing a rush of euphoria and relaxation. It has similar effects to prescription pain pills like oxycodone or morphine, but it’s cheaper and easier to get on the street.

Can you smoke heroin?
When people think of heroin abuse, they often imagine someone injecting the drug with a needle. This is a common way to use the drug, but heroin can also be smoked or snorted.

Heroin slang words
Common heroin street names include, dope, smack, H, junk, skag, snow, horse, China white, beast, and hero, among others.

What Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is a less pure form of heroin that’s just as strong. It gets its name from its dark, sticky appearance, similar to roofing tar or hard, black candle wax. The dark color is the result of processing methods that leave behind impurities. Despite its name, black tar heroin can also be dark orange or dark brown in appearance.

This form of heroin mainly comes from Latin America and is most commonly found in the western parts of the U.S. Common street names for black tar heroin include black dragon, black pearl, and Mexican mud. Rather than a fine powder, black tar heroin is chunky and rough, requiring a user to first dilute it with water and heat.

Once dissolved, heroin can be injected into the skin, smoked, or snorted. It has a strong vinegary smell and bitter taste. Users report feeling an initial “rush” or high, followed by several hours of drowsiness and mental clouding. Black tar heroin symptoms last for around 5-8 hours per dose.

Drug dealers may cut black tar heroin with additives like sugar or powdered milk to increase profits. This makes the potency unpredictable and raises the risk of overdose. One study found that black tar heroin users were at higher risk for wound botulism, which can lead to breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, and be fatal.

What Other Forms Does Heroin Come In?

Besides black tar heroin, common forms of heroin include:

White heroin – A fine white or off-white powder that’s highly processed and the purest form of heroin.

Brown heroin – A powder varying in color from off-white to dark brown. It is more crudely (or roughly) processed than white heroin.

Persian heroin – Light brown, granular powdered heroin originating from the Middle East.

No matter what form it comes in, heroin is extremely addictive with harsh withdrawal symptoms when use stops. Whether injecting, smoking, or snorting it, heroin comes with serious risks of addiction, overdose, and long-term health effects.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

When regular heroin use stops, the body starts experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms. Because the body depends on the drug, removing it causes physical and psychological symptoms that start within 6-12 hours after the last dose. Symptoms peak in 1 to 3 days and subside after about a week.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Distress, anxiety, depression
  • Sweating, shaking
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Runny nose, watery eyes
  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps


How to Get Through Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

After a while, a user may say to themselves, “I’m quitting heroin.” But going through withdrawal without professional help can be very difficult and lead to relapse. Supportive medical detox programs can help manage heroin withdrawal symptoms. From medications that ease cravings and anxiety to behavioral counseling to deal with emotional issues, it’s important to match the best treatment approach to meet the particular needs of the individual patient. Addiction treatment centers are ideal because they offer round-the-clock medical monitoring and support.

Medications for Heroin Addiction

Medications developed to treat heroin addiction are safe, effective, and often save lives. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Lofexidine works through the same receptors in the brain as heroin, but doesn’t produce the same effects. Other helpful medications include:

  • Methadone eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It’s only available through approved outpatient programs where it’s given to patients on a daily basis.
  • Buprenorphine relieves drug cravings without producing the “high” or dangerous side effects of other opioids. The FDA approved buprenorphine in 2002, making it the first medication able to be prescribed by certified physicians through the Drug Addiction Treatment Act.
  • Naltrexone prevents heroin from attaching to opioid receptors and blocks its effects.

Behavioral Therapies for Heroin Addiction

Many effective behavioral treatments are available in outpatient and residential settings. Approaches such as contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have proven effective, especially when combined with medications. Contingency management uses a voucher-based system in which patients earn “points” based on negative drug tests, which they can exchange for items that encourage healthy living. CBT changes a patient’s expectations and behaviors related to drug use and to increase skills in coping with the stress of life.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Aliya Health Group

Overcoming heroin addiction is challenging, but possible, with individualized treatment and support. At Aliya Health, our treatment centers offer evidence-based care for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Our team of experts is compassionate and caring, providing both traditional and alternative substance use disorder treatments so you can experience whole-body healing.

Highlights of our drug rehab programs include:

  • Alcohol and drug detox
  • Inpatient drug rehab
  • Outpatient programs
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Trauma-focused therapies like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Holistic types of treatment like art therapy, massage therapy, and yoga

If you or a loved one is struggling with black tar heroin addiction, reach out to us with questions about treatment. We offer free, confidential consultations.


  1. Heroin Statistics | National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics
  2. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  3. Wound botulism associated with black tar heroin among injecting drug users | NIH

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