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Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is cheaper to produce than regular heroin but poses the same risk of addiction, overdose, and death. It’s increasingly prevalent in the Midwest and East Coast. However, treating addiction to black tar heroin is similar to treating other opioid addictions. There are many treatment centers available to help individuals overcome heroin abuse and achieve a life free from addiction.

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What Is Black Tar Heroin?

Mexican black tar heroin is a crude form of heroin containing many impurities and contaminants, giving it its dark, sticky form.

This thicker form requires injection drug users to heat it on a spoon to turn it into a liquid before taking it intravenously (i.e., with a needle), while others snort it.

Black tar heroin is as strong as the pure, white powder form. Unfortunately, many drug users mistake black tar heroin as less potent because it is more crudely made. This misconception leads people to overdose because they think they need more to achieve the same high.

What Is the Difference Between Regular Heroin and Black Tar Heroin?

The most significant difference between regular heroin and black tar heroin lies in the substance’s purity. Black tar heroin is much less pure than other forms of heroin.

The process for black tar heroin is quicker and more economical than producing higher-quality white or brown heroin.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, black tar heroin seems to plateau at about 25–30% pure.

However, drug dealers may mix even the “purer” white powder version of street heroin with sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine to save on profits.

Effects of Black Tar Heroin

No matter how users ingest black tar heroin, the drug quickly enters the brain.

The severity of black tar heroin’s effects depends on several factors, such as purity, how the drug is taken, and what other substances the heroin may contain.

Short-term effects of black tar heroin use include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Flushed skin
  • Arms and legs feel heavy
  • Upset stomach
  • Slurred speech
  • Tiny pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Slipping in and out of consciousness (the nod)

Long-term effects of black tar heroin include:

  • Skin infections
  • Heart infections
  • Collapsed veins
  • Sleep issues
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental health disorders
  • Lung diseases
  • Menstrual problems and miscarriage in women
  • Bacterial infections
  • HIV and Hepatitis infections from sharing syringes
  • Wound botulism—a rare, incurable bacterial skin infection that can lead to paralysis and death if untreated
  • Heroin overdose
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Who Uses Black Tar Heroin?

People of any age, background, race, and economic status can develop a substance use disorder with black tar heroin. However, research shows that many people begin with prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are chemically related to heroin.

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 0.4% of people aged 12 or older (about 1.1 million) reported using heroin in the past 12 months. The most significant increase in heroin use has occurred in young adults aged 18-25.

When people addicted to painkillers lose their prescription, an illicit drug like heroin often becomes their next step. Many people buy black tar heroin because it tends to be cheaper than the purer white powder forms.

Black Tar Heroin Addiction

Black tar heroin is highly addictive. As a result, regular black tar heroin users often develop tolerances to the substance, requiring higher or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects.

Because all types of heroin bind to specific opioid receptors in the brain, the substance can act as a pain reliever and make the user feel relaxed and happy.

The intense withdrawals of heroin, however, can make it extremely difficult for people to stop taking the drug, even if they want to.

Signs of Black Tar Heroin Addiction

Identifying the signs of black tar heroin addiction can help you or a loved one prevent the serious health consequences of prolonged heroin abuse.

Common signs of addiction to black tar heroin include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Secretive behavior
  • Changes in appearance, like poor hygiene or wearing the same clothes for days or weeks
  • Lack of motivation
  • Extreme drowsiness or nodding off
  • Financial problems/borrowing money
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Paranoia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Collapsed veins
  • Severe itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Treatment for Black Tar Heroin Addiction

One of the most-cited barriers to stopping opioid abuse is the fear of dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

Opiate withdrawals can range from mild to severe, usually including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. However, certain prescription medications can help alleviate symptoms and reduce cravings.

Common medications used to help control withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings include:

Aside from medication-assisted treatment (MAT), treatment for black tar heroin or opioid use disorder may include one-on-one therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and general skill building.

Through therapy, patients learn to identify and redirect the self-destructive thought patterns that lead to drug use.

Depending on the severity of addiction, some patients may require in-patient residential treatment while others do well with outpatient treatment throughout the week.

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Get Help for Black Tar Heroin Addiction

Addressing black tar heroin addiction in yourself or a loved one is never easy. However, many options are available to help people with substance abuse and their families.

Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Heroin Anonymous, and SMART Recovery® can help you connect with other recovering black tar heroin addicts and find community support.

If you’re ready to enroll in a treatment program, visit SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call (800) 662-4357 to find the best local treatment providers that meet your needs. You can also speak with your primary doctor or mental healthcare provider to ask for referrals for treatment.

FAQs About Black Tar Heroin

What is black tar heroin?

Black tar heroin is a less pure form of heroin, generally found on the west coast. Made and exported from Mexico and South America, black tar heroin comes in a dark sticky form similar to roofing tar.

What is the difference between black tar heroin and regular heroin?

Regular heroin often comes as a white or brown powder and is considered “purer.” Black tar heroin is a less refined and more crude version of heroin, often looking dark and thick like tar.

Because black tar heroin is quick and easier to make than purer forms, the substance has risen in popularity over the past decade.

Black tar heroin is produced and exported from Mexico and South America, so it is more common to the west of the Mississippi River in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, it is still available throughout the United States.

Is black tar heroin more dangerous?

Black tar heroin contains more impurities than regular heroin due to the faster, less refined process used to make the substance. Because black tar heroin often comes in a sticky form, it cannot be directly injected without first being dissolved.

Black tar heroin can be more dangerous if not properly dissolved into a solution before injection drug use, causing health problems like:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses
  • Liver or kidney disease

How long does it take to withdraw from black tar heroin?

The timeline and effects of heroin withdrawal vary from person to person. Generally, black tar heroin withdrawal symptoms begin 8–24 hours after your last black tar heroin use and can last up to 4–10 days.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. McKenna, J. (n.d.). How to tell if your loved one is addicted to heroin. WebMD. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/heroin/is-my-loved-one-addicted-to-herion

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  4. Drug fact sheet: Heroin – Drug Enforcement Administration (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Heroin-2020_1.pdf

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, January 26). What is the scope of heroin use in the United States? National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states

  6. Hougland, S. M. (1992, November). Chasing the Black Dragon. US Department of Justice. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/chasing-black-dragon

  7. Mars, S. G., Bourgois, P., Karandinos, G., Montero, F., & Ciccarone, D. (2017, September 1). The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on “Black Tar” and Powder Heroin in Two US Cities. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.med.upenn.edu/timm/assets/user-content/documents/Fall%202021/Mars-Bourgois%20et%20al%202017_Textures%20of%20Heroin_nihms815188.pdf

  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, June 3). Medications for Opioid Overdose, Withdrawal, & Addiction. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/medications-opioid-overdose-withdrawal-addiction

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