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What Does Heroin Look Like?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 28, 2019

Heroin is an illegal opiate that looks like a fine, white powder. Opiates are incredibly addictive substances that can cause dependence and addiction. Most people will require a formal treatment program to successfully overcome heroin addiction.

When found in its purest form, heroin is a fine, white powder. However, heroin can look different depending on the poppy plant. Where the plant is grown and how it is processed can impact what the heroin will look like.

Heroin can also look different based on what additives it is cut with. It can be different shades of pink, brown, gray, and even black. Heroin is often cut with sugar, caffeine, baking soda, or other substances. Some heroin found on the street may be cut with poisons like strychnine (rat poison).

Heroin can also be found in tar-like form with a dark brown or black color. This is known as black tar heroin and is the least pure form of heroin. This type of heroin is not completely processed and is therefore more of a sticky substance rather than a powder.

Most heroin found on the street contains only a small portion of the drug. This can put people using heroin at risk for serious and sometimes fatal side effects because they don’t know what the drug is cut with.

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Understanding Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an illicit drug that is part of the opiate family of substances. It is derived from the opium poppy plant.

Opioids work by binding to the pain receptors in the brain to block feelings of pain and promote a sense of well-being and calm. Opioids flood the brain with dopamine, which can also create feelings of intense euphoria.

When used continuously, people can become dependent on opioids to feel good or “normal.” This can lead to a dependence on the drug as well as chronic abuse and addiction.

Heroin abuse and addiction can be extremely dangerous. In fact, in 2017, approximately 15,000 died as a result of heroin overdose.

Getting Help For Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction will likely require an intensive treatment program to successfully overcome. Intensive inpatient treatment programs have shown to have the highest success rates for those dealing with a heroin addiction.

Medication management may be part of a multi-level treatment program for someone addicted to heroin. Common medications used include buprenorphine and methadone. These drugs are given on a taper-based program to help manage withdrawal symptoms and overcome dependence on heroin.

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment - How do opioids work in the brain?

Drug-Free World - What Does Heroin Look Like?

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