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What Is Black Tar Heroin?

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 12, 2019

Black tar heroin is a form of heroin that is dark colored and sticky in nature. This form of the drug is primarily used by those who inject heroin intravenously. Black tar, as well as any form of heroin, is very dangerous and can result in several negative health consequences including overdose and death.

Heroin is one of the most highly addictive illicit drugs. Extracted from the opium poppy plant, it comes in several forms, including powder and black tar heroin. Regardless of the way this drug is administered and in what form, it is always extremely dangerous.

Black tar heroin—or as called on the street Tar, Pigment, Black Clown, Ache, Black, or Chiva, among others—is sourced predominantly from Mexico, though it does come from other regions, namely Latin America and both Southeast and Southwest Asia. Its name originates from its form and appearance, commonly brown or dark black, thick and sticky, looking similar to roofing tar. In addition to this form, it may also be hard and similar in look to coal. Its appearance derives from its impure and unrefined nature, due to its inconsistent and fairly rudimentary processing.

Where Is Black Tar Heroin Used?

Heroin use was once divided by the Mississippi River. To the east reigned the more pure, powdered form of heroin, and to the west and Southwest, black tar, due to greater proximity to the Southwest border where large quantities of this drug enter the U.S.

This delineation still stands, but as heroin use continues to accelerate, this line is becoming increasingly more blurred. Black tar heroin is steadily moving east, ravaging areas of the Midwest, being found in Ohio, a state that is seeing itself in the crosshairs of a heroin epidemic. This growing migration has the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on guard and highly concerned.

According to the DEA’s National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, though still a small portion of the total, a growing number of heroin seizures in the Northeast are Mexican black tar.

Why Is Black Tar Heroin Use Accelerating?

One thing that is fueling and accelerating the spread of black tar heroin is its apparent cheaper price. However, the reduction in cost is strictly monetary, as this form carries a hidden and highly dangerous price: it is highly deadly, and the impact has been seen all across the country.

When a person is primed and compulsively seeking their next fix, they might be apt to try black tar heroin and continue using it, due to the money they save that can in turn be used for more drugs. Or, when a person, without the knowledge and proper understanding of the risks, seeks to try heroin for the first time, they might gravitate towards black tar, again due to the savings. Though many heroin users may not begin “shooting up,” or injecting the drug right away, some do.

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Many experts believe a secondary reason for the increase in black tar heroin use is due to the increasingly prevalent abuse of prescription drugs, specifically opiate (narcotic) painkillers. Use of these drugs has skyrocketed, and as more people abuse them and become addicted to them, they begin seeking cheaper, alternative means of obtaining an opiate effect.

The price of heroin has dropped over time, and in comparison to these oftentimes expensive pills, it becomes an attractive option. Black tar stands out even more to some, due to its even lower price. Though it is true that prescription painkiller misuse, abuse, and addiction is a very serious and even life-threatening situation, in turning to heroin, users expose themselves to even more varied, and at times, dangerous risks.

The DEA summary continues to theorize that this increasing range may be due, in part, to drug trafficking organizations moving into rural and suburban areas, in attempts to veil their operations.

How Is Black Tar Heroin Used?

Because of the impurities present in this form, users refrain from inhalation and typically use black tar heroin intravenously by diluting and liquefying it (“cooking”), or by smoking it, each of which carry their own unique risks and side effects.

What Are The Risks Associated With Black Tar Heroin?

Heroin, in any form, is highly dangerous—it is a drug, that in its progressively widespread and epidemic use, has left behind a swath of destruction within countless lives across the United States.

As we’ve noted before, black tar has a unique form. It is this stickiness that presents problems within the primary method of use, injection. Intravenous drug use is dangerous and puts a person at high risk for a variety of serious, and even life-threatening complications, including:

  • Infectious endocarditis: This is an infection of the heart lining and the valves caused by the bacteria that are present within the injected heroin. Experts theorize that with increased heroin use, this disease will rise.
  • Collapsed veins: Due to its more viscous nature, the drug moves in a different capacity through a person’s veins; this mechanism of action can expose a person to this risk that is present with any intravenous drug use, but that is greater with black tar heroin.
  • Venous sclerosis: With chronic injection, an individual’s veins harden and narrow. This risk is especially worrisome, as it put a person at great risk for the following two complications.
  • Increased risk of disease: Injecting heroin increases a person’s risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, specifically types C and B, due to the risky behavior of sharing needles and having unsafe sex.
  • Infections: Due to the vascular damage that is incurred by the administration of heroin into the same injection sites, individuals may attempt to inject the drug subcutaneously (directly beneath the skin into the fatty tissue layer) or intramuscularly (deep into the muscle). These practices can result in potentially life-threatening infections, as a result of the excessive amount of contaminants, including fungus and bacteria, that linger because of its poor refinement. These infections may result in the body’s tissues deteriorating, specifically presenting as necrotizing ulcers, or necrotizing cellulitis and necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Higher risk of overdose: When heroin is injected directly to the bloodstream, larger amounts flood a person’s system faster, increasing the chance of a fatal overdose.

Inhaling black tar, either through snorting or sniffing, can damage the delicate tissues of a person’s nasal cavity, specifically the mucosal tissues. Repeated inhalation can cause a perforated septum, which is the area between your two nasal passages.

In addition to these risks, black tar heroin carries the same risks that any heroin use does, including:

A host of health problems:
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin can cause constipation, insomnia, depression, antisocial personality disorder, sexual dysfunction, altered menstrual cycle, spontaneous abortion, lung complications, liver and kidney disease, arthritis, and numerous others.

Using heroin that is cut with something else:
Oftentimes, heroin is cut with other additives or other drugs in an attempt to make a higher profit or increase the high. One such drug, carfentanil has led many to overdose and death. This drug, which is intended as an animal tranquilizer, can be up to 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

As we’ve noted, heroin is highly addictive. In fact, NIDA estimates that of those who try heroin, 23 percent will become addicted.

A tolerance occurs when a person no longer experiences the same effects, specifically the high or euphoria, that they seek. Due to this, the user begins using more of the drug, which puts them at a greater risk for the myriad of dangers tied to heroin, as well as overdose.

Overdose, including death:
Heroin has a high potential for overdose, which in many instances may prove fatal.

Loss of quality of life:
This illicit drug knows no bounds in is destruction, leaving many destitute, in ill health, and removed from the parts of their life that were once essential to their happiness and wellness. Individuals who use, find that their families, finances, responsibilities, ambitions, and dreams may be made virtually insolvent from this drug’s sweeping destruction. This tragedy doesn’t have to continue.

Heroin Withdrawal

An individual who chronically uses heroin will experience an uncomfortable, and at times, extreme withdrawal if they quit taking the drug “cold turkey.” As a result, it is strongly recommended that you seek professional drug treatment, which in many cases may require a residential program or an inpatient drug rehab center.

Reach Out For Help And Reach Recovery

An addiction to black tar heroin is only portent of more severe things to come, however, this damage doesn’t have to continue—help exists. With the right combination of treatment, support, medications, and compassion, a person can put this lifestyle and drug use behind them, learning how to make positive choices that establish and nurture a new and healthy life.

You don’t have to let everything slip away because of your drug addiction. If you or your loved one suffers from an addiction, don’t wait any longer. Our expert staff is standing by to show you the steps that can pull you up and out of a drug addiction and on the path to a better life. Contact us today at

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What is heroin and how is it used?

Live Strong - Side Effects of Black Tar Heroin

Medscape - Cutaneous Complications of Intravenous Drug Abuse

New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services - FYI Black Tar Heroin

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