Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

What Does Heroin Look Like? A Short Guide to Identifying This Dangerous Opioid

What Does Heroin Look Like?

What does heroin look like? Heroin comes in a variety of forms. Our quick read will help you recognize what heroin looks like and more.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

October 4, 2023

According to the CDC, the US passed a grim milestone in 2021:

Since 1999, over one million Americans died from drug overdoses. Many of those overdoses were caused by opioids like heroin.

Fewer drugs have cast as long and as sad of a shadow as heroin. It’s inspired novels, songs, and movies…and has ended the lives of some of our most talented artists, writers, and musicians.

Various opioids are abused by people regularly. These include natural opioids like morphine and codeine, semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone, and hydrocodone, synthetic opioids like tramadol and fentanyl, methadone, and heroin.

Opioid abuse is incredibly dangerous. Knowing what heroin looks like might save a person’s life. Read on.

Heroin by the Numbers:

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) states that opioids are involved in 136 deaths every day. The data also indicates that over 10 million people misuse opioids every year.

What Does Heroin Look Like: What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid known by terms like diacetylmorphine and diamorphine. It’s a semi-synthetic opioid created in a laboratory from morphine. Heroin strongly resembles the natural extracts of the poppy plant, like opium and morphine.

Street names for heroin include:

  • Tar

  • Horse

  • H

  • Smack

Since it is an opioid drug, heroin is highly addictive. This is due in part to the feelings of intense euphoria it creates.

What Does Heroin Look Like: What Forms Does Heroin Come In?

Heroin can be typically found in two forms, powder or a dark sticky resin called tar. The powder heroin is derived from the opium poppies grown in Southeast and Southeast Asian countries, Mexico, and South America.  South America and Asia are generally where the United States gets powder heroin, while black tar heroin comes from Mexico. The latter one is more popular in the western part of the country.

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What Does Heroin Look Like: How Do People Take Heroin?

People who abuse heroin inject, smoke, and snort it. The tar form of heroin is diluted first before people inject it into their bodies. There is a considerable risk of overdose since heroin is a very potent drug. Also, heroin is sold in impure and adulterated form. Heroin stashes are often contaminated by other drugs, including fentanyl.

Heroin has been placed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use and have a high potential of being addictive. Let's now learn why it is so addictive and how it works.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin is sold in a variety of forms, each with its own look. Here’s what heroin looks like:

What Does Powder Heroin Look Like?

Powder heroin comes from the poppy plant that is native to Asian countries. It is typically sold in three colors, namely white, brown, or grey powder ... although other colors of heroin exist. White is generally associated with the purest form of herein, but the pure form is rarely sold on streets. Heroin gets cut or laced with many substances, including powdered milk, flour, and other psychedelic drugs.  

White powder heroin is a mix of fentanyl and heroin. It is slightly more dangerous than brown heroin or even opioids like methadone. This is because it is often laced with fentanyl which is a hundred times more potent than morphine. There is also a risk of overdose since each batch of white powder heroin can contain different amounts of fentanyl or other substances.

Meanwhile, brown heroin is either smoked, snorted, or injected. It is a fine brown powder that is often combined with cocaine. It carries a huge risk of overdose, addiction, and even death. 

What Does Black Tar Heroin Look Like?

Black Tar heroin is a substance with a black and sticky color and texture. It is also known as Mexican black tar heroin since it is exported to Mexican cartels. Black tar heroin is significantly present in Western America and Canada.

Some people believe that it's not as potent as the white powder form. However, this misconception has caused several cases of overdose deaths. Black tar heroin is generally smoked or ingested, although many also inject it as well.

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What Does Heroin Look Like: What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Heroin gets converted into morphine as soon as it's ingested in any form. It works by binding itself to our brain receptors called mu-opioid. This receptor is in our brain stem, responsible for controlling blood pressure, breathing, and other processes. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states drug interaction turns on the receptors, releasing dopamine. This natural process leads to the generation of a sense of well-being. Unfortunately, using external substances to generate pleasure rewires our reward system. This is the reason behind the continued cycle of craving euphoria resulting in the development of addiction. 

What Does Heroin Look Like: The Side Effects of Heroin

Heroin use can harm the user's health, including mild to severe side effects. 

Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Short-term side effects of using heroin are euphoria, dry mouth, itching, flushed skin, upset stomach, feeling of arms and legs being heavy, fuzzy brain, and drowsiness. 

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Long-term health concerns could include insomnia, mental health disorders, collapsed veins, liver and kidney issues, skin infections, lung diseases, menstrual problems, increased risk of HIV/AIDS, and infection of the heart lining and valves. 

The users may also experience other issues like weight loss, bacterial infections, decreased tolerance for pain, lowered endorphin production, inability to concentrate properly, learning issues, family discord, strained interpersonal relationships, legal problems, employment loss, deterioration of academic performance, homelessness, suicidal ideation, and self-destructive behavior.

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What Does Heroin Look Like: How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Heroin is a potent substance whose effects can stay longer than other powerful substances like meth and cocaine. Interestingly, it has a shorter half-life than most substances.

A drug’s half-life is the amount of time it takes for the body to process half of a dose of a drug. It takes about thirty minutes for our body to reduce the consumed heroin by fifty percent. Drug tests determine the exact rate at which heroin flushes out of our system. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several drug tests for heroin, including saliva, blood, urine, and hair follicles.

Blood and Saliva Heroin Tests

Blood and saliva tests have the shortest detection window to trace heroin within 5-6 hours and sometimes 2 days.

Urine Test for Heroin

Urine tests also have a moderate detection window that will not be able to trace heroin after 2 days. Some urine tests have shown results up to 7 days as well.

Hair Test for Heroin

Lastly, hair tests have the longest detection window that can detect the traces for up to 90 days or 3 months. 

What Does Heroin Look Like: What Are Heroin Withdrawal Signs?

Those who become dependent on heroin suffer both mental and physical dependency on the substance. They fear stopping because of the uncomfortable and painful opioid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can occur as soon as an individual stops drug usage.

Some common withdrawal symptoms are sweating, insomnia, muscle pain, cramping limbs, crying jags, cravings, heaviness, fever, diarrhea, runny nose, and even death.

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What Does Heroin Look Like: What Are the Signs of a Heroin Overdose?

Studies claim that opioid and heroin users are 20 times more likely to die due to overdose than any other drug type. A heroin overdose can be recognized by various signs, which include: 

  • Weak pulse

  • Drowsiness

  • Disorientation

  • Low blood pressure

  • Shallow breathing

  • Blue, clammy skin

  • Coma

What Does Heroin Look Like: Heroin Addiction Treatment Treatment & Recovery

Heroin addiction does not have a cure-all solution. Several steps and options have to be combined to get the desired results of long-term sobriety. Several different treatments are able to be tailored according to the individual's condition.

For instance, pharmacological treatment helps manage withdrawal symptoms during the detox phase. It helps in curbing the intensity of craving and urge to use heroin. Earlier, methadone was used to manage heroin addiction. Now it is known for being a highly addictive drug.

Fortunately, with time new medications have been introduced and discovered to assist in the treatment. Whenever you are trying to seek treatment for heroin addiction, choose a drug rehab center that has staff and medical professionals with certified opioid treatment programs. 

Drug Rehab for Heroin Addiction

Some people prefer an inpatient drug rehab facility to have psychological and emotional support throughout the process. Treatment programs have options for inpatient and outpatient settings. An inpatient setting is recommended for patients with severe symptoms who must stay inside the facility.

Outpatient drug rehab does not require the patients to stay inside rehab. It’s a great choice for people with milder issues, or who have advanced through other levels of care.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several drugs used in heroin addiction treatment. Medication-assisted treatment, known as MAT, is designed to alleviate withdrawal and cravings along with lowering withdrawal symptoms.

These medications include Buprenorphine or Subutex, Suboxone, Methadone, and Naltrexone.


Buprenorphine is an opioid painkiller that is given to patients in a controlled fashion. It allows them to focus on therapy by reducing drug cravings. Also, it’s safer to use than heroin as it’s given out by professionals in a controlled fashion. Buprenorphine is prescribed under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone.

Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, a drug known for reversing opioid overdose.


Methadone is not widely used now since it is dangerous. However, when a patient does not respond to other drugs, methadone is recommended.


Lastly, Naltrexone is a non-addictive medication that interferes with the pleasure experienced by an individual after using heroin. 

Heroin Abuse Is Deadly if Untreated. The Edge Treatment Center Will Help

Heroin abuse is an incredibly dangerous activity that can cause a range of negative physical and psychological effects in users. Long-term use of the drug can lead to organ damage, life-threatening infections, and even death. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with heroin addiction are unable or unwilling to seek help due to the stigma associated with substance abuse.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we understand the challenges that come with heroin abuse and addiction. Our experienced team of professionals provides compassionate care to our clients, helping them address their mental health and substance abuse issues in a safe, secure environment. We work hard to ensure that each person receives individualized treatment plans tailored to their unique needs.

Our programs at The Edge are designed to help with both the physical and psychological components of heroin addiction. We use evidence-based treatment methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help our clients develop coping skills that will enable them to manage their cravings and maintain abstinence from drug use. ng their treatment.

Don't risk a heroin overdose! Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today and learn more about our effective, evidence-based care for heroin addiction.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.