Black Tar Heroin: Everything You Need to Know

Heroin, an illicit opioid, is typically found in several varieties, including white powder, brown powder, and black tar heroin. Black tar heroin ranges from brown to black and may be sticky and stretchy or hard like coal. This Mexican-sourced type of heroin is often sold in U.S. states west of the Mississippi River. The crude processing method of black tar heroin gives it its color and consistency.1,2,3

In this article: 

Why Do People Use Black Tar Heroin?

The reasons someone may start using black tar heroin resembles the reasons people may start using any opioid. Some reasons include:

  • First being prescribed an opioid by a doctor and developing an addiction then transitioning to heroin use due to ease of access.
  • Black tar heroin is more accessible in certain areas than white powder heroin.
  • Self-medicating mental health problems.

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How Is Black Tar Heroin Different Than Heroin?

Each type of heroin has characteristics related to how it is made, used, and even distributed. Most heroin is sold in powder form. Black tar heroin, however, comes in a solid or sticky form.4

Due to its weight and bulk, black tar heroin is mainly distributed in the United States, as it is hard to ship in ways other than land. Black tar heroin is often packaged in balloons or wrapped in plastic, whereas powdered heroin is typically sold in zip-lock baggies.4

Black tar heroin is produced in Mexico while other forms of heroin come from Southwest and Southeast Asia, Columbia, and Mexico. It tends to be less pure than powdered heroin, peaking at about 30% purity.4

How Dangerous Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin poses serious risks to your health and could even have life-threatening effects.2 While misuse or abuse of any drug can have harmful consequences, black tar heroin use has its own unique risks due to the impurities from the fillers and the method of administration (intravenous and subcutaneous).

Using black tar heroin increases your risk of:2,4

  • Wound botulism
  • Hardening of the veins
  • Multiple skin infections at one time
  • Abscesses
  • Gangrene
  • Tetanus infections
  • Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease)
  • Overdose

What Are the Side Effects of Using Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin use produces an intense feeling of euphoria and relaxation. It may also cause altered states of being asleep and awake.5 The side effects are not all desirable, however. Negative effects of black tar heroin use include:1,5

  • Extreme itching at the injection site
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Clouded mental function
  • Profound respiratory depression
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Tolerance, meaning you need more of the opioid to feel high
  • Physiological dependence, meaning you must use heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms

Tolerance and dependence do not develop overnight—rather, chronic heroin use leads to tolerance and physiological dependence. Although tolerance and dependence are not the same as black tar heroin addiction, they can contribute to the development of an addiction.

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Black Tar Heroin Addiction

Chronic black tar heroin use can lead to an addiction, a chronic condition characterized by uncontrollable black tar heroin use regardless of harmful consequences.

Signs of an addiction to black tar heroin include:

  • Needing more and more heroin to get high (tolerance)
  • Trying to quit using but can’t
  • Continuing to use despite the loss of relationships, jobs, legal problems, etc.
  • Experiencing strong cravings for this opioid
  • Participating in risky behaviors to obtain heroin
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly quit
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed hobbies
  • Exhibiting mood swings
  • Experiencing a noticeable change in appetite

Withdrawal Symptoms

If you are addicted to black tar heroin, you will likely be dependent on this opioid as well. If you suddenly quit using black tar heroin, you may experience the following heroin withdrawal symptoms:7

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain and spasms and tics
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning

Long-term black tar heroin use can lead to tolerance, which means you need larger amounts of heroin to get high. This is dangerous because as you take higher and higher doses, your risk of experiencing an overdose increases.

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47,300* People Addicted
23,100* Getting Help
8,209* Deaths
*Statistic from 2015

Black Tar Heroin Overdose Signs

Drug overdose is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. If any of the symptoms listed below occur, call 911 immediately.

Signs and symptoms of an overdose may include:1,9

  • Shallow or no breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin, nails, or lips
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Pin-point pupils
  • Limp body
  • Loss of consciousness

If any of these signs and symptoms of black tar heroin overdose are present, an emergency plan should be implemented. This plan includes calling 911 and preparing to provide first aid or CPR until emergency professionals arrive on the scene. If you have naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose antidote, you should administer it.

Once treated for an overdose, you may find it beneficial to transition into a heroin addiction treatment program, where you can receive therapy and counseling to help you quit using black tar heroin.

Treatment for Addiction to Black Tar Heroin

You don’t have to quit using black tar heroin on your own. Help is available, in several different forms. Detox is the first step in the recovery process. Inpatient detox programs provide you with 24/7 medical supervision and care to keep you safe and comfortable while you withdraw from black tar heroin. Once you are stabilized, you can transfer to an addiction treatment program, on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient treatment provides you with around-the-clock treatment away from drug-using triggers at home. Outpatient recovery involves living at home and attending therapy during the day.

Inpatient rehab may provide a combination of the following:9

  • 12-step groups
  • Medication-assisted treatment (methadone or buprenorphine)
  • Holistic therapies
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Trauma-focused therapies
  • Treatment for mental health disorders
  • Peer support
  • Life skill building
  • Individual, group, and family therapies
  • Aftercare and follow-up services

After completing an inpatient treatment program, you may want to transition to outpatient treatment where you will continue building upon the skills you learned in rehab.

If you are wanting to quit using black tar heroin, treatment can help. Call 844-431-5818(Who Answers?) to find out more about treatment options near you.


  1. U.S. Department of Justice. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource GuideDrug Enforcement Administration.
  2. Mars, S. G., Bourgois, P., Karandinos, G., Montero, F., & Ciccarone, D. (2016). The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on “Black Tar” and Powder Heroin in Two U.S. Cities. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 48(4), 270–278.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin Research Report: What is heroin and how is it used?
  4. Ciccarone D. (2009). Heroin in brown, black and white: structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market. The International journal on drug policy, 20(3), 277–282.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?
  6. Degenhardt, L., Grebely, J., Stone, J., Hickman, M., Vickerman, P., Marshall, B., Bruneau, J., Altice, F. L., Henderson, G., Rahimi-Movaghar, A., & Larney, S. (2019). Global patterns of opioid use and dependence: harms to populations, interventions, and future action. Lancet, 394(10208), 1560–1579.
  7. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva. (2009). World Health Organization. Withdrawal Management.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Opioid Overdose Prevention Tool Kit. 
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.

the Take-Away

Heroin, an illicit opioid, is typically found in several varieties, including white powder, brown powder, and black tar heroin. Black tar heroin ranges from brown to black and may be sticky and stretchy or hard like coal. This Mexican-sourced type of heroin is often sold in U.S. states west of the Mississippi River. The crude …