Heroin is an addictive drug that can be smoked, snorted, or injected. It belongs to a class of painkillers known as opioids, or opiates.
Heroin generally comes in one of three forms:
- white powder
- brown powder
- dark, sticky substance (black tar heroin)
Heroin is an illicit drug that is illegal to possess, manufacture, and distribute in the United States in all of its forms. It is widely known for its rapid, euphoric effects.
The appearance of street heroin may differ depending on how it’s manufactured and whether it’s been mixed with other drugs, fillers, or additives.
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Creating Heroin: How It’s Made
Heroin is a partially synthetic drug that comes from morphine, a naturally occurring substance. Morphine is extracted from the seeds of the opium poppy plant.
Opium poppy plants are grown across the world. Most of the United States’ supply of heroin comes from Latin America.
Refining Morphine Into Black Tar Heroin
Heroin is made by refining morphine, an opiate commonly prescribed to treat pain.
Morphine can be processed into the form of a dark brown, blackish, sticky substance known as black tar heroin.
Some black tar can also be solid and look like dark chips or rocks.
Creating Brown Powder Heroin
Through further processing, heroin can be refined into the form of a brownish, granular powder. This form of heroin may appear grainy or powdery.
White Powder Heroin (Pure Heroin)
Refining brown powder forms of heroin even further can create a white powder. White, powdered heroin is heroin in its purest form.
Pure heroin is shiny in appearance. Duller forms of heroin may indicate the addition of fillers, additives, or other illicit or prescription drugs.
Factors That Can Affect The Appearance Of Heroin
Not all heroin looks the same. Black tar heroin is a crude form of heroin, while powdered forms are more refined.
The appearance and effects of heroin can depend on:
- refining methods
- where it comes from
- whether it’s mixed with other drugs
- drug purity
Less Common Types Of Heroin
Heroin most often comes in the form of a white powder, brown powder, or dark substance similar to roofing tar.
Less common, or impure forms of heroin include:
- blue heroin
- cheese heroin
- synthetic heroin
- liquid heroin
Some of these less-common forms of heroin can have a different color or texture than purer forms of heroin.
Heroin is also sometimes mixed with other illicit or prescription drugs, which can affect its appearance.
Where Can Heroin Be Found?
Powdered heroin is often bought and sold in small baggies. These may be hidden away by people who use it, either to protect their stash or avoid detection by loved ones.
Heroin may be stored in drawers, shelves, pockets, or other infrequently visited spots.
It may be stashed with common forms of drug paraphernalia, such as aluminum foil, spoons, syringes, and needles.
Dangers Of Heroin
Heroin is a dangerous drug. It is unregulated by federal health agencies and can be toxic in small doses, especially when mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic and highly potent opioid.
Dangers of heroin can include:
- increased risk for infectious diseases (e.g. hepatitis)
- chronic drug addiction
- new or worsened mental health disorders
- liver and kidney disease
- damaged blood vessels (from injection)
One of the biggest dangers of heroin is that you can’t know for sure what is in it, since there is no government oversight on its production or distribution.
Taking too much heroin, or taking heroin mixed with other drugs, can have severe health effects. People who are addicted to heroin or take it just once can be at risk for fatal overdose.
Heroin Dependence And Addiction
People who use heroin can become physically and psychologically dependent on heroin over time. This can be a sign of heroin addiction, also known as heroin use disorder.
People who become dependent on heroin may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit.
For this reason, entering a detox program—which can offer treatment for withdrawal—is highly recommended, followed by substance abuse treatment.
Finding Treatment For Heroin Addiction
If you’ve found heroin among a loved one’s belongings, or suspect they’re using heroin, you’re not alone.
Overcoming an addiction to heroin is possible with treatment. Call our helpline today for more information about heroin or how to find addiction treatment near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)