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What Is Black Tar Heroin? Understanding the Differences Between Black Tar and Powder Heroin

Black tar heroin, like regular heroin, is derived from morphine. It is a highly addictive type of opioid drug that is abused around the world.

While it shares many similarities with powder heroin, black tar heroin is less expensive and often laced with other substances.

What Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin gets its dark, sticky, tar-like appearance from the way it is processed, which leaves behind impurities. Although it is coined black tar, it can also be dark orange or dark brown. It can also be hard like coal, and not just sticky like tar. 

In general, black tar heroin is less expensive than typical forms of heroin, such as powder heroin, likely due to its raw processing and less pure final product. Black tar heroin is not purified as many times after acetylation occurs. Because of this, its unique consistency is formed.
Black tar heroin is often laced with other substances, such as flour, sugar, powdered milk, starch, or painkillers to stretch the product and increase profits for drug dealers.

Where Does It Come From?

All heroin is derived from morphine, which is extracted from the poppy plant, and black tar heroin is no different. Fields of poppies that are cultivated for heroin production are grown in Mexico, South America, and South Asia, as these areas provide warm, dry climates for the flowers to grow. 

Most black tar heroin, however, is produced in Mexico. In fact, Mexico is the primary supplier of heroin to the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Black tar heroin, in particular, is fast and easy to produce there, so it is usually cheaper than other types of heroin. Costs are also kept low because very little pure heroin is usually found in black tar heroin.

According to the DEA, 93 percent of the heroin seized in 2015 came from Mexico. As of 2016, the DEA estimated 32,000 hectares of land in Mexico was being used for poppy cultivation, allowing for 81 metric tons of heroin to be produced each year compared to a production limit of 26 metric tons of heroin just three years before. 

Between 2008 and 2015, deaths from heroin overdose in the U.S. tripled to almost 13,000 fatal overdoses.
The steep rise in heroin production in Mexico and heroin-related overdose deaths in the U.S. has become a matter of great concern for the DEA. These trends of heroin use have contributed greatly to the current national opioid overdose epidemic.

Who Uses Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is most frequently used by people living in the western and southern areas of the U.S., though it is found in other parts of the world, such as western Africa and Latin America. 

Black tar heroin can be melted down, so it is most commonly injected directly into the vein. It can also be ground into a powder and snorted or heated so that the vapors can be smoked or inhaled. People abusing heroin typically do so in search of a pleasurable and euphoric high that comes in one big rush. 

Additional side effects of heroin use include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • A sense of the arms and legs being heavy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Impaired cognitive functioning
  • Going in and out of consciousness, or “on the nod”

As with most drugs, more serious side effects associated with long-term chronic use of heroin such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Mental health issues, such as depression or antisocial personality disorder
  • Collapsed veins in people who inject heroin
  • Damaged nose tissue in people who snort heroin
  • Heart infections
  • Abscesses on skin
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Stomach cramps
  • Constipation
  • Lung problems, such as pneumonia
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women

Since most forms of heroin, especially black tar heroin, are laced with additional substances, many different organs in the body may experience permanent damage, such as the liver, kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, and even the brain. People who regularly inject heroin via shared needles are also putting themselves at risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis.

Black Tar Heroin Compared to Regular Heroin

Black tar heroin varies in a few key ways from regular, or powder, heroin. In addition to the obvious difference in appearance, the two forms of heroin typically vary in price and purity. Researchers investigated users’ experience of these two types of heroin with regard to markets, health consequences, and preferences for consumption. 

In this study, researchers compared the heroin-related experiences of users in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Black tar heroin was almost solely found in San Francisco and described by users in Philadelphia as a West Coast luxury. There was a strict division in the heroin markets that kept each type of heroin geographically isolated in the country. 

In terms of health consequences, both types of heroin caused abscesses on the skin, commonly blamed on poor injecting practices. Users of black tar heroin reported far more instances of vein loss due to injecting than users of powder heroin did, likely due to the consistency of black tar heroin compared to powder heroin.
Users of powder heroin were able to maintain healthier veins even when injecting the drug, especially when they resisted concurrent drug use.

Dangers of Black Tar Heroin

The dangers of using black tar heroin are similar to the dangers of using any type of heroin. The substance is highly addictive, easy to overdose on, and one can rarely guarantee the purity of the product being bought.

In the case of black tar heroin, it is nearly guaranteed that additional substances are mixed into the drug. When drugs are laced with other toxic chemicals, the risk of experiencing adverse side effects greatly increases. 

A big part of the opioid overdose crisis that has developed across the country over the past 20 years is today’s heroin epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use in the United States has increased greatly among all demographics.

In 2010, there was a steep rise in heroin-related overdose deaths, and this increase marked the second wave of the opioid overdose crisis. From 2010 to 2017, the rate of overdose deaths caused by heroin abuse increased by almost 400 percent. 

One of the greatest dangers of using heroin is that nearly all people who use it also abuse at least one other drug. Most heroin users use at least three other drugs at the same time.
Concurrent drug use puts you at great risk of experiencing adverse effects on your mental and physical health. Substances often interact with each other, amplifying their effects or producing unexpected effects in your body.

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The Bottom Line

Whether you are experimenting with black tar heroin or another form of heroin, the likelihood of physical and mental damage is high. All forms of heroin are dangerous and addictive. Heroin is sending more and more people to the emergency room every year.
If you are addicted to heroin, you can avoid the dangers of heroin use by getting help. With comprehensive treatment, you can address the issues that contribute to your opioid abuse and learn to live without drugs.


(June 2018). What is Heroin? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from

(October 2017). Mexico is Primary Source of Heroin for U.S.: DEA. The Yucatan Times. Retrieved January 2019 from

(July 2016). The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on “Black Tar” and Powder Heroin in Two US Cities. Journal on Psychoactive Drugs. Retrieved January 2019 from

(November 2018). The Various Types of Heroin. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 2019 from

(December 2018). Today’s Heroin Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 2019 from

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