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What Does Heroin Look Like? How to Identify It

Heroin looks different depending on what form it is in. It can range from a whitish powder to a black, rock-like substance.

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Spotting Heroin

Is someone you love using heroin? It’s not an unusual question. More than 900,000 people admitted to heroin use in 2019.

If you find heroin, heroin packaging, or heroin paraphernalia, you can hold a frank discussion about drug use. But you’ll want to get your facts straight. Misidentify anything, and you could lose the opportunity to get through to someone you love.

Here’s what you need to know to identify heroin properly.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Four types of heroin exist, and each one looks a little different.

White Powder Heroin

Considered the purest form of heroin available, white powder heroin looks a lot like a pile of chalk. Particles are fine, and they don’t tend to stick together.

Granules of heroin are often mixed with other white substances, such as sugar, powdered milk, and starch. Users often don’t know how much heroin is in each dose they take, which boosts overdose risks.

Brown Powder Heroin

Granules are tan, and a batch of this type of heroin might look like sand or brown sugar. Particles can clump together into tiny balls.

The color and stickiness of brown powder come from additives and impurities, such as caffeine or sugar. These additions don’t dissolve, and they can clog blood vessels when injected.

Brown powder is often cheaper than white powder, but it could be slightly more dangerous.

Black Tar Heroin

A black, rock-like substance that sticks to your fingers could be black tar heroin. The dark color comes from incomplete drug processing. Impurities aren’t cooked away from the powder, and they’re sold as part of the product.

Black tar heroin like this is typically dissolved, and the solution enters the body through a needle.

Liquid Heroin

Dealers combine black tar heroin with water, and they sell it in syringes or eyedroppers.

The liquid is black or brown, and it might seem poorly mixed. Clumps and bits could float to the top or sink to the bottom of the packaging.

What Does Heroin Packaging Look Like?

A typical dose of heroin is about the size of a pencil eraser. Dealers look for ways to slice up their heroin into tiny amounts that look completely innocent.

Common heroin packaging materials include the following:

  • Aluminum squares
  • Baggies
  • Balloons
  • Gelatin capsules

Don’t look for heroin residue on these packages. Most people will scrape, lick, and pull every speck of drugs away to get the most value from their purchases.

What Does Heroin Paraphernalia Look Like?

A typical heroin user must process the drug to use it. Anything someone uses to cook, inject, or smoke heroin is paraphernalia.

Most new heroin users smoke the drug because they believe they’ll avoid addiction if they never use needles. Smoking paraphernalia can include these items:

  • Glass pipes
  • Spoons
  • Lighters

People who inject heroin need the following:

  • Spoons
  • Cotton balls
  • Syringes
  • Bands to tie off veins

What Should You Do Next?

You’ve found evidence of heroin use. It’s time to talk to your loved one.

Bring your findings to the person, and talk about what you’ve seen. Be supportive and kind. You’re not trying to punish the person as much as suggest another way of life

Together, you can talk about how recovery works and what the person can do next. Research some treatment options, so you can discuss this with them. Tell them that there is a better future on the other side of treatment.

You could provide just the motivation the person needs to stop using heroin for good. By reaching out to help them, you could save their life.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 1, 2023
  1. What Is the Scope of Heroin Use in the United States? (June 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. Heroin. United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. What Does Heroin Look Like? Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
  4. What Is Heroin and How Is It Used? (June 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. Drug Identification. (2022). City of Boise.
  6. Heroin Fast Facts. National Drug Intelligence Center.
  7. The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on “Black Tar” and Powder Heroin in Two US Cities. (September–October 2016). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
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