Whenever heroin is mentioned, the image that pops into most people’s minds is the white, refined powder known as “smack” or by some other street name. But the addictive substance comes in different colors that make it look different but are no less deadly. Heroin—an illegal opioid drug made from morphine that is extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant—can be pink, beige, tan, yellowish, or brown. It also can be a gummy substance that resembles roofing tar or a hardened substance that looks like coal, which is known as black tar heroin.
Black tar heroin smells like vinegar and is a purified form of opium in which the morphine content is higher, which spells danger for its users, reports Opium.com.
Black tar heroin is used in various parts of the world, including Afghanistan, but much of the U.S. supply comes from Mexico. According to Heroin.net, Mexican cartels began to produce black tar heroin to appeal to users who wanted something stronger than brown heroin but cheaper than white heroin. It’s also faster to produce than white or brown heroin because it hasn’t fully gone through the refining process, which is said to be long and tedious.
The Drug Enforcement Association data show the U.S. heroin market is divided by region. Markets east of the Mississippi River generally use white-powder heroin while markets west of the river consume black tar heroin. Part of the substance’s appeal, according to experts, is that black tar heroin is harder to spike or cut with other substances, such as fentanyl.
How Do People Use Black Tar Heroin?
People who use black tar heroin typically smoke it or heat it and mix with water before they inject it into their veins. Upon injection, the substance courses through their bodies and induces feelings of euphoria and relaxation that are similar to the rush of white heroin, according to Heroin.net. Once the rush is over, users may fluctuate between deep drowsiness and a state of high alert for hours, a period called “nodding out.”
It doesn’t take long to hook users on heroin as they build up a tolerance to the substance rather quickly. This, of course, means they will use more of the drug to achieve the highs they experienced when they first started to use.
Like other kinds of heroin, black tar heroin converts back to morphine upon entering the brain and binds to opioid receptors that control how pain and reward are perceived. As a result of their use, heroin users tear down their bodies and hurt their health. With use, their breathing and heart rate slow down, which can lead to brain damage, coma, and death. This is just some of the effects of heroin use on the body.
Black Tar Heroin Has Unique Health Risks
Black tar heroin also comes with specific health risks that users may or may not realize. According to Heroin.net, users are getting only 25 to 30 percent of pure heroin when they use black tar heroin. That means only 70 to 75 percent of the sticky substance that is processed with crude, makeshift techniques may contain impurities that can infect organs essential to one’s survival, including the heart, lungs, and brain. Toxins from the tool of the trade go right into the product, and users take the risk of those toxins wreaking havoc on their health.
Black tar heroin users also are at risk for developing conditions that develop as a result of injection drug use. Some of them are:
Abscesses: Skin and soft-tissue abscesses that result from injection drug use are common among black tar heroin users. The abscesses are walled-off pockets of bacteria and pus that lie underneath the skin’s surface, writes Heroin.net.
Tetanus: Injecting black tar heroin into the skin or muscle puts users at risk of contracting tetanus, another poisonous bacterial infection that can cause painful muscle spasms and even death. Stiff jaw is the most common symptom of tetanus. It is also called “lockjaw.” Stiffness can also affect the neck, arms, legs, and abdomen. Other tetanus symptoms are sweating and fever, trouble swallowing, headache, and restlessness and irritability.
Venous sclerosis: This is a condition that hardens and narrows the arteries after users inject black tar heroin. Blood flow becomes more restricted as the arteries narrow and blood flow decreases to essential organs.
Wound botulism: This serious, life-threatening illness is rare. It happens when a wound contracts Clostridium botulinum and a toxin is developed that attacks the body’s nerves. Black tar heroin users who get wound botulism may find it hard to breathe and experience muscle weakness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people suffering from wound botulism will need antitoxin to stop the toxin from causing more harm. However, it can’t undo the damage, which is permanent.
Other Health Risks Linked to Heroin Use
Black tar heroin users can suffer from other conditions that all heroin users are at risk of getting. Among these are:
Collapsed veins: This condition happens when there is a prolonged use of intravenous injections. It is caused by injections administered over time, blunt needle use, and the practice of injecting drugs into the vein that are meant to be taken orally. Veins that are too inflamed or irritated may never heal.
Infectious diseases: Using dirty, contaminated needles can increase heroin users’ chances of contracting hepatitis, HIV, and other diseases.
Pneumonia: Users may get this lung infection as heroin depresses people’s breathing, according to Drugs.com. People with pneumonia typically experience a cough, fever, shakes, nausea and vomiting, among other symptoms. Poor lung health also can lead to tuberculosis, a chronic bacterial infection commonly found in the lungs.
Overdose: Because black tar heroin is less pure than white heroin, users tend to use more of it for a stronger high and put themselves at risk of using too much. Overdose can cause permanent injury or death. According to federal data, heroin overdose rates are highest in the Northeast and Midwest, which are regions that have had high availability and access to white-powder heroin as well as the largest heroin user populations in the country.
Get Help for Black Tar Heroin Addiction Today
No matter what kind of heroin people decide to use, it is all dangerous, addictive, and deadly. Black tar heroin addiction is hard to break, but we at Pathway to Hope can help you find your way back to sobriety. Call our 24-hour helpline at (844) 557-8575 or contact us online and one of our call agents will assist you immediately with what you need.
Get answers today to questions you have about heroin addiction treatment, including how the detox process works and the medications used. Take your life back from addiction and begin your recovery today.