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  • What Does Heroin Look Like? | Identifying The Different Types Of Heroin

    What Does Heroin Look Like? | Identifying The Different Types Of Heroin

    Heroin is a highly addictive, illicit opioid that is imported and widely used in the United States. Heroin comes in several types and forms, each with distinct colors, origins, and properties.

    Three Types Of Heroin

    Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid drug made from the natural opioid morphine, which is extracted from the seed pods of certain species of opium poppy plants grown in Colombia, Burma, and Afghanistan/Pakistan. 

    To properly identify heroin, consider the three main types: white powder, black tar, and brown powder.

    White Heroin

    White powder form heroin is the purest form of the drug. It looks like a fine, shiny white powder with a bitter taste that can vary depending on what other white powders (if any) are cut into the drug to increase its weight and potential profit.

    white powder heroin
    White Powder Heroin

    Pure heroin usually originates from Colombia, and is the main variety of heroin sold in the eastern United States.

    White heroin is made for smoking or snorting, methods of substance abuse that are attractive to first-time users, and others reluctant to take opiates by injection. However, the drug can also be injected, with some risk from filler compounds often cut into the drug.

    It’s widely thought that many Americans have switched from prescription opioids to heroin. Heroin is easier to obtain and tends to be less expensive.

    Black Tar Heroin

    Black tar heroin is a name for freebase forms of heroin that come as a solid or sticky black, dark orange, or dark brown mass instead of a fine white powder. It is common in the western and southern United States.

    black tar heroin
    Black Tar Heroin

    Black tar street heroin likely comes from Mexico and is cheaper and easier to produce than white powder heroin or brown powder heroin. 

    But, this quick and easy process comes with downsides. Black tar heroin is rarely more than 25% to 30% pure; the impurities of the mix give it its distinctive dark color and texture.

    Black tar heroin is typically dissolved into water in the presence of heat, then injected into blood vessels, muscles, or under the skin. This process involves significant health risks, including a heroin overdose.

    Brown Heroin

    Brown powder heroin can come from any source region. It can be a less-refined version of finished white powder heroin with more impurities, or a more refined version of black tar heroin with fewer impurities.

    brown powder heroin
    Brown Powder Heroin

    In the United States, most brown powder heroin comes from Mexico and is formed from freebase black tar heroin that is purified and cut with lactose and other compounds.

    Mexican brown powder heroin is considered a less-expensive alternative to white powder heroin. It’s color and texture can vary, but it often resembles fine sand.

    Brown powder heroin doesn’t dissolve easily and is usually smoked rather than injected or snorted.

    Other Types Of “Heroin”

    As an illicit drug, heroin is diluted, adulated, and impersonated with a wide range of additives. Some of these are harmless fillers, but others are dangerous and include fentanyl or potent synthetic opioids.

    Purple/Blue Heroin

    Fentanyl is often cut into heroin to bring up the effectiveness of a batch after it’s been heavily diluted, especially if the real drug has become scarce.

    Heroin laced with fentanyl and died blue or purple has been linked to fatal overdose outbreaks in a number of cities across the nation.

    purple fentanyl laced heroin
    Purple Heroin

    Harm reduction test kits are available to help identify heroin that’s cut with fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, should be on hand in the case of overdose.

    Pink Heroin

    Pink heroin is actually U-47700, a new and potent synthetic opioid produced in China and shipped to the United States as a fine pink or white powder, or as tablets that imitate prescription painkillers.

    Pink Heroin (U-47700)
    Pink Heroin (U-47700)

    Pink has been estimated to be two to four times more potent than heroin by weight, giving it a high potential for accidental overdose.

    Heroin Addiction Treatment

    Professional care at an addiction treatment center is available to help you or a loved one safely navigate opioid withdrawal symptoms and recovery. To learn more, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - DEA Schedules Deadly Synthetic Drug U-47700
    Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - The West Virginia Drug Situation
    International Journal of Drug Policy - Heroin in brown, black and white: Structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market
    National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Heroin DrugFacts
    National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - What is heroin and how is it used?

    Medically Reviewed by
    Davis Sugar, M.D.
    on July 6, 2022
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