Black tar heroin

Black tar heroin

Black Tar Heroin is a variety of heroin produced primarily in Mexico, but similar in appearance and texture to so called Home Bake Heroin from New Zealand. It is one of the most prevalent forms of heroin in the western United States, while occasionally found in western Canada and Europe. Mexican heroin has a hashish-like, non-powdery consistency, which distinguishes itself from other forms of heroin.

"Black tar heroin" is the typical street term for the drug,See the CDC's [ Wound Botulism Among Black Tar Heroin Users] from 2003, for example.] but it has many other street (colloquial) names, such as:
* "Pigment"
* "Negro": the Spanish word for black
* "Piedra": the Spanish word for stone
* "Chiva": a Spanish word for a young goat
* "Nut Job"
* "Muck"
* "Frown"
* "Slab"


Mexican drug syndicates were producing heroin by the mid-1960s. Lacking the experience in chemistry that other syndicates had gained through years of illicit heroin production, Mexican organizations used less-refined morphine and also substituted primary chemicals in synthesis (for example, substituting acetic acid (found in vinegar) for acetic anydride). The opium from which heroin is ultimately produced is a golden brown-to-black, gummy latex containing an average of 10% morphine, although morphine content can vary from 3 to 20 percent of content. Pure morphine and heroin are both fine white and odorless powders. In order to produce heroin, morphine is extracted from raw opium and reacted with non-glacial acetic acid, primarily acetic anhydride for its efficiency. The purity of the final product, and therefore its color and texture, depend on the purity of the source material. Early black tar heroin was notable for its low purity (usually under 30%, at a time when white powdered heroin from the east coast often tested at over 90%), but purity levels have increased dramatically as the producers have gained experience. It should also be noted that the percent of the remainder of black tar heroin is other psychoactive opiate substances, like 6-MAM & morphine, rather than cut or inactive substances. Accordingly, the price per kilogram of black tar heroin has increased from one-tenth that of South American powder heroin in the mid-1990s to between one-half and three-quarters in 2003. It has been steadily on the rise in the following years to nearly converge with the dropping purity of U.S. east coast powder varieties of heroin. [ [ USDOJ report on South American & Mexican Heroin purity levels] ]

Drug Components and Effects

The effects of black tar heroin are identical to those of powder heroin. This is because, although less refined than powder forms, black tar makes up for purity in potency through excess alkaloids left in its creation process which affect its course of action. Black tar heroin is found to contain byproducts such as 6-monoacetylmorphine, U.S. DEA microanalysis of seized black tar heroin was shown to contain over 50% and as much as 63 percent 6-MAM. [ [ February '06 DEA Office of Forensic Sciences Washington Intelligence alert] ] 6-monoacetylmorphine is more potent by weight, with less of a negative side effect per milligram, than heroin. However black tar heroin is also found to contain 6-acetylcodeine, which is more toxic than heroin and more likely to cause allergic reactions to otherwise opiate tolerant individuals. Additionally, leftover morphine by itself is found in black tar heroin. The combination of heroin, 6-MAM, & morphine and the difference in their onset upon crossing the blood brain barrier can theoretically be a cause of increased duration of peak effects that none of the drugs alone would reach, making black tar heroin an opiate cocktail of sorts. Because of the consistency of black tar heroin, it is usually injected or smoked from strips of tinfoil. It can also be ground into powder or dissolved in water and snorted.

Health matters specific to black tar heroin

Users who intravenously inject black tar heroin are at higher risk of venous sclerosis (a condition where the veins narrow and harden, making injection there nearly impossible) than users of powder heroin. Researchers at UC-San Francisco have found that the rapidity with which black tar heroin destroys veins (forcing users to inject subcutaneously), along with its gummier consistency (requiring that needles be thoroughly rinsed between use), may put users at a lower risk of HIV infection. [|CDC: Black Tar Heroin May Save Users from HIV: Report] ]

Black tar heroin is also associated with necrotizing fasciitis (NF). NF is a severe form of cellulitis, where infected tissue and muscle rapidly dies and patients can ultimately die of sepsis and kidney failure. Necrotizing Fasciitis has a mortality rate of 20% for treated cases and almost 100% for untreated cases. Black tar heroin can be associated with wound botulism (infection with Clostridium "botulinum" at the site of heroin injection). This presents as generalized weakness, followed by paralysis of major muscular groups, and finally respiratory paralysis. Botulism is treatable with intravenous type A equine antitoxin and mechanical ventilation.


The effects of the drug are realistically captured on the 1999 documentary .


* [ "National Drug Threat Assessment 2005"] , National Drug Intelligence Center. Accessed 15 December 2005
* [ "Heroin"] , Interpol Drugs Sub-Directorate. Accessed 15 December 2005

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