Types of Heroin and How Addictive They Are - The Discovery House Los Angeles CA

Exploring The Types Of Heroin

Heroin is an illicit substance that has affected the lives of thousands of people in the US. The CDC mentions that over 130,000 people have died from heroin overdoses over the last 20 years. To better understand the nature of the current epidemic, we’ll review the types of heroin available and the different features that define them.    

This substance has wormed itself into homes, breaking apart families because of dependence and addiction across the country. Originally designed as a painkiller at the turn of the twentieth century, it has gone on to be a menace to society.

Heroin’s versatility as a substance comes from how easy it is to create and how many different forms it can take. But what is this drug, and how did it become such a terrible problem for so many people?

What Type of Drug is Heroin?

Heroin is an illicit substance that fills the role of a painkiller. It was developed in the early 20th century, derived from morphine, and manufactured to replace it.

Morphine’s issues as an addictive substance were well-known at the time, and drug manufacturers wanted to develop something more potent as a painkiller but less addictive. When it came onto the scene in the early 1900s, doctors started prescribing it as a painkiller in a big way.

However, data quickly emerged that the substance might be as addictive as morphine, maybe even more so. Doctors quickly dialed down their prescription of the drug, but not before several thousand people had already become addicted to it.

The current iteration of the heroin problem is a direct result of the opioid epidemic that arose in the 90s. Heroin had stayed under the radar for a while because it wasn’t used much as an illicit substance.

However, in the 80s and 90s, the prevalence of prescription painkillers on the market created a new problem. Doctors prescribed these painkillers to those suffering from chronic pain, taking the manufacturer’s word that they would be less addictive than other opioids.

This claim proved to be false, and by the time these prescriptions were stopped, there were already hundreds of thousands of people addicted to opioids. With no hope of getting their prescriptions refilled, they turned to the next best thing – the street.

Street gangs and cartels saw a business opportunity that was too easy to exploit. Heroin is easily synthesized and could be mass-produced with very little overhead. The streets flooded with the drug, catering to the needs of those who had become addicted to opioids.

Unfortunately, with no quality control and with the type of drug, users sometimes ran the risk of overdosing or taking a bad batch, putting them into hospital.

How is Heroin Used

How is Heroin Used?

Most people who encounter heroin see it as a powder that might be one of a few different colors. However, it can also be manufactured and sold in liquid form, making it easier to inject.

The powder can be smoked or snorted, but most users opt to inject it. When injected into a vein or a muscle, the side effects of the drug (extreme euphoria and a sense of well-being) occur much faster than if the person were to smoke or snort it.

Individuals who start smoking or snorting the drug may eventually resort to injecting as it offers the most rapid intoxication method. Preparing the heroin for injecting can be a ritual for those who use it this way. Typically, heroin is placed on a spoon, and a liquid (usually citric acid) is added then the mixture is heated. 

Once the mixture liquefies completely, some pass it through a filter before drawing it into the syringe to remove impurities. These filters can be something as simple as a cigarette filter or a cotton ball.

They may not actually remove impurities but add to the peace of mind of the user. Before injecting the substance, the user will need to find a vein. 

In the same way that a phlebotomist would tie off an arm when drawing blood, the user would use a tourniquet to make the veins in their arms stand out. The entire process of “shooting up” with heroin is a ritual.

It’s not uncommon to see users display their material in front of them before getting started. While a user may be tentative the first few times, it becomes second nature to them before long.

Primary Types of Heroin Available in the United States

Heroin comes in several forms that you can find across the United States. These different types vary in color and phase, with the final product being based on the ingredients used to produce it. The primary types that a user will encounter are:

Brown Powder Heroin

Brown powder heroin is the first stage of purification of the product. Typically, these brown powder lots are produced in Mexico then shipped to the US for distribution. It looks a bit like sand, and it might be easy to mistake it for that.

Because it’s still a largely unrefined product, it’s one of the most affordable versions of heroin that users can find. Because it’s still early on in the purification process it isn’t easily dissolved, and most users will opt to smoke it instead of injecting it.

This makes for a much more delayed high. Many new users prefer brown powder heroin because it’s easier to use.

White Powder Heroin

This version of the drug is known chemically as diacetylmorphine hydrochloride. While it shows up on the street as white, it may also take the form of several other colors, including pink and beige.

Most street users believe that the whiter the heroin, the purer it is. Usually produced in Mexico and parts of South America, it makes its way into the local market through several transshipment points.

It is much easier to dissolve than brown powder heroin, making it desirable for injection users. Unfortunately, white powder heroin is usually “cut” with additives, making it dangerous to consume.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is one of the most sought-after (and inexpensive) product iterations on the street. It’s the polar opposite of white powder heroin. This version of the drug usually comes in black clumps, as the name suggests, that may feel sticky to the touch.

While black tar heroin is a less-refined version of the substance and is usually produced at a lower quality than white powder heroin, it’s got a very dedicated user base.

Many illicit manufacturers prefer to create this version of the substance because it’s cheaper to make than others. Injecting black tar heroin can lead to severe complications.

Black Tar Heroin

Other Heroin Types on the Street

Heroin isn’t limited to these primary types. There are several unique mixtures and combinations of heroin along with other drugs that make it onto the street as a ready-to-consume product. Among the different kinds of heroin that users may frequently encounter on the street are:

China White

Originally a highly refined version of heroin imported from Southeast Asia, China White now refers to a mixture of white powder heroin and fentanyl – another synthetic opioid. Occasionally, China White may be used to refer to a pure concoction of fentanyl.

Because of the purity of the product, it has a reputation for causing overdoses and adverse effects. However, China White isn’t the most affordable product and is out of reach of most users.


Speedballs are mixtures of cocaine and heroin which create a dangerous “push-pull” effect on the body. Heroin depresses the central nervous system, slowing breathing and causing drowsiness. Cocaine does the opposite, speeding up the heart rate and causing anxiety.

Because of the effect of these two drugs on a person’s body, there may be severe complications, including aneurysms, stroke, and even heart attacks. Speedballs may also contain some amounts of fentanyl, which exacerbate the risk of these effects.

Gunpowder Heroin

This version of the drug purports to be a stickier and more potent version of black tar heroin. Users of the substance report that it seems to resemble coffee, being black and crumbly in appearance.


Scramble is a combination of white and brown heroin together, packed into a gel capsule. Because of how convenient it is, many new users opt for this version of the drug because it doesn’t take time to shoot up.

In addition to the heroin base product, it may also contain a wide variety of additives, including fentanyl, benzodiazepines, and quinine.

Common Additives and Fillers in Heroin 

Synthesizing heroin from opium can happen in several ways. Unfortunately, if a drug is manufactured in an illicit lab or put together by individuals with no formal training in chemistry, there’s no telling what the end product would look like.

Many people who buy their heroin on the street don’t know where it comes from and don’t care either. The additives in these street-produced versions of the drug are based on the impurities in the base product.

Sometimes, manufacturers also include anesthetics as part of the drug’s construction. Heroin also comes with fillers, allowing manufacturers to produce “more” of the drug. Each batch would have less active heroin but more filler to “stretch” it for sale.

Some of the most common fillers that users may encounter include:

  • Cornstarch
  • Crushed painkillers
  • Flour
  • Powdered Milk
  • Talc
  • Sugar

These fillers don’t do anything by themselves, but they may create adverse effects in combination with other things. For example, if a user tries to inject heroin, the fillers may get in the way and cause blockages in veins, leading to embolisms and potentially death.

Crushed painkillers also contain other chemicals that may enhance the heroin’s potency but increase the risk of complications from harmful interactions between heroin and the painkillers.

Heroin Addiction and Recovery

Heroin is an addictive drug, but addiction happens without anyone realizing it’s going on. Even the user thinks that they won’t get addicted to it, despite the body becoming dependent on the drug.

When someone takes heroin, the brain floods with dopamine – a chemical responsible for a feeling of well-being and euphoria. The first time someone takes the drug, the high is more than anything they’ve ever felt.

Yet with each dose, the effects diminish, pushing them to take even more. The drug rewires the brain to need the substance to function normally, a result known as dependency. When someone is dependent on the drug, they need it to approach standard functionality for their brain and body. 

Dependency is the forerunner to addiction. Once someone starts making decisions based solely on their need for the substance, they become addicted to it.

Addiction is a brain disease that causes a person to perform actions to get a drug they’re dependent on, completely ignoring the consequences of their actions or any negative fallout from it.

Recovering from addiction happens in several phases. When a person visits a rehab facility to break their dependence on heroin, they usually answer a few questions and go through a mental health overview with a psychologist.

Once they complete this phase, they move on to detoxification. The patient goes through controlled withdrawal, usually monitored by medical staff in case of complications. At the end of detox, they then enter a long-term care program.

These care programs are designed to help the recovering person get to grips with the drug’s psychological hold on them. Over time they can leave their addiction behind and return to society as a regular individual.

Heroin Addiction and Recovery

Finding the Right Recovery Facility for Heroin Addiction

Recovery depends on the support that an individual has. California has many facilities in the area, making it the ideal place for individuals who want to recover to seek professional help. 

The Discovery House is one of those rehab facilities that take the care of their patients seriously. Our medical staff is highly trained and has been helping members of society recover from addiction for years.

Focusing on helping a person overcome their dependence and returning to society, we offer personalized care that caters to each visitor. Give us a call today, and let’s develop a strategy for overcoming your addiction now.