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Black Tar Heroin

Last Updated: May 16, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Black tar heroin is an impure form of heroin that is produced primarily in Mexico. Like other forms of heroin, it is a Schedule I controlled substance that carries a high risk of abuse and addiction. Because it requires less processing than other forms of heroin, black tar heroin may be less expensive than purer forms of the drug. The following will provide an overview of how black tar heroin is made, what its risks are and where to receive heroin addiction treatment.

What Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is the most common type of heroin in the western part of the United States. Though it may be present in other parts of the country, it’s far less common. Black tar heroin is often brow

n or black in color, reflecting the impurities it contains. In contrast to white powder heroin from South America, which is around 46% pure, black tar heroin is only around 27% pure.

Black tar heroin may look sticky like tar, or it may look like a chunk of rock or coal. It often has an odor and may smell like vinegar. Common street names for the drug in Texas — a black tar heroin hotspot — include:

  • Big H
  • Dr. Feelgood
  • Smack
  • Horse
  • Anti-freeze
  • Dirt
  • Beast
  • DOA
  • Mud
  • Brown sugar
  • Chiva
  • Mexican brown
  • Junk
  • Black tar
  • Chase the dragon
  • Monkey water
  • La Buena
  • Harry
  • Cotics

Besides retaining the impurities that are normally removed from white powder heroin, black tar heroin is often cut with other substances. This can include:

  • Sugar
  • Starch
  • Powdered milk
  • Quinine
  • Strychnine
  • Fentanyl

The Increasing Use of Opioids During COVID

More than 40 states, including New Jersey, are seeing spikes in opioid-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through July 2020, overdose deaths in New Jersey increased by 17% compared to the previous year. Social isolation and job loss may be factors contributing to this, as well as limited access to support groups and counselors that would otherwise play a role in helping people remain sober. Some experts think that New Jersey may be headed for a record in opioid overdose deaths as a result of the pandemic.

Black Tar Heroin Use

Black tar heroin is highly addictive. However, most people who struggle with black tar heroin did not originally start out on the drug. Instead, approximately 80% of people addicted to heroin originally started with prescription opioid use.

Although anyone can become addicted to heroin, one study found that common characteristics among San Franciscans struggling with black tar heroin were:

  • Low education level
  • Unemployment
  • Insecure housing

People abuse black tar heroin in various ways, including:

  • Injecting, or “mainlining” the drug
  • Inhaling, or “chasing” the drug
  • Smoking also called “chasing the dragon”
  • Liquefying and inhaling the drug, also called “shabanging”

Black tar heroin can also be combined with other ingredients and drugs. Sometimes, it is combined with cocaine in an attempt to lessen the “crash” that occurs after a cocaine high. Another combination is called “cheese,” which is a mixture of black tar heroin and over-the-counter cold medication. Cheese has been responsible for at least 40 deaths in Texas since 2004.

Another combination called “Chiva” is a mixture of black tar heroin and antihistamines. Because the active ingredients in cold medications and antihistamines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, they can increase the effects of other CNS depressants, including black tar heroin. Further, the powerful opioid fentanyl has been found in some black tar heroin samples, making it even more dangerous.

Black Tar Heroin Effects

A high from black tar heroin can be similar to those of other heroin forms. A person may start to feel high within seconds if they inject the drug, or within 15 minutes if they snort or smoke it. A black tar heroin high can last up to six hours and may have many effects, including:

  • Euphoria
  • Flushed skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Watery eyes and nose
  • Small pupils
  • A heavy feeling in the body
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Stupor
  • Slowed breathing and heartbeat
  • Feelings of well-being

Because black tar heroin is less pure than white powder forms of heroin, it may cause less of a high due to its relatively lower potency. However, this does not mean that black tar heroin is safer than white powder heroin. A person may believe that lower potency means lower risk — as a result, they may overdose by taking a large quantity. Additionally, black tar heroin contains many more impurities than white powder heroin, and these impurities can cause severe infections.

Black Tar Heroin Overdose Symptoms

Overdose symptoms of black tar heroin are similar to those of purer heroin forms. They can include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Unresponsiveness

A black tar heroin overdose is a medical emergency. If the opioid reversal agent naloxone is available, it should be administered immediately; then, you should call 911. Because naloxone can wear off in as little as 30 minutes, it is important to seek emergency medical attention in case the victim lapses back into an overdose.

Risks of Injecting Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is different from other injectable drugs because it can cause vein damage and infections. The acids contained in liquified black tar heroin result in a high risk of vein scarring. Because it is difficult to inject the drug into scarred veins, people who struggle with black tar heroin often begin injecting into the skin or muscles. This can increase the risk of skin infections and otherwise rare conditions like tetanus, wound botulism and necrotizing fasciitis. Contaminants in black tar heroin can also cause a variety of other serious infections, including infections of the heart, eyes and muscles.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

When you seek help for quitting heroin, the first step will be to safely stop using the drug. It can be tempting to try quitting black tar heroin cold turkey while riding out any withdrawal symptoms, but this can be difficult and dangerous. Further, suffering through severe withdrawal symptoms is linked to problems with staying sober in the future. For these reasons, a detox program can help your chances of long-term success.

In a medical detox facility, you stay in an inpatient setting and receive around-the-clock medical care to treat any withdrawal symptoms that arise. This can include medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with methadone or buprenorphine-containing products. Medical detox is followed by inpatient or outpatient rehab, where behavioral treatments like counseling and therapy teach you the coping skills needed to live a heroin-free life.

Treatment Centers in New Jersey

Those who struggle with black tar heroin can find support within the state of New Jersey. The state government has a fully-staffed emergency addiction counseling line available around the clock at 1-844-ReachNJ. Further, the state has information about drug treatment resources on their website.

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is a licensed addiction treatment facility that specializes in helping people who struggle with heroin use. With a full continuum of care provided through a state-of-the-art medical rehab facility, our addiction experts are committed to helping people overcome heroin and lead a healthier, drug-free life in recovery. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and recovery programs that can fit your needs.


What is black tar heroin?

Black tar heroin is an impure form of heroin that is smuggled from Mexico and primarily sold on the West Coast.

What does black tar heroin look like?

Black tar heroin, as its name suggests, is brown or black. It can look sticky and tar-like, or it may look like a chunk of rock or coal.

What is in black tar heroin?

Black tar heroin includes many impurities that give the drug its dark color. In fact, only around 27% of black tar heroin is heroin. The rest of its ingredients are additives.

What does black tar heroin smell like?

Black tar heroin often smells like vinegar. The drug is usually sold as a powder and needs to be mixed with an acidic liquid like vinegar to be injected. In contrast, purer heroin is often washed after it’s produced, so it has less odor.

Can someone overdose while smoking black tar heroin?

It is possible to have a deadly overdose from smoking black tar heroin. Smoked heroin begins to impact the brain within minutes.


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