What is Black Tar Heroin?
Black tar heroin is an illegal, highly addictive, and relatively cheap opiate drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, black tar heroin is a crudely processed opiate, dark in color, that may be sticky like tar or hard like coal. It gets its color and texture from the many impurities left behind after processing. Users typically dissolve, dilute, and inject black tar heroin into the veins, muscles, or under the skin, but it can also be snorted or smoked. Most black tar heroin is produced in Mexico and other Latin American countries. In the United States, black tar heroin is most commonly found west of the Mississippi River.
How Does Black Tar Heroin Affect the Body?
Black tar heroin impacts the body similarly to other opiate drugs. The drug quickly moves to the brain and binds to opiate receptors there. Binding to opiate receptors prevents the release of a brain chemical called GABA, which typically regulates dopamine production. When GABA is blocked, dopamine floods the brain, activating the brain’s reward centers. This blocks any feelings of pain and produces a euphoric rush or “high.” Because black tar heroin is highly habit-forming, it produces an intense high very rapidly. Users quickly become both tolerant to and dependent on black tar heroin. Tolerance to black tar heroin means that the same dose fails to produce the same effect, so that over time, users require greater or more frequent doses to achieve the same high. Dependence means that the user’s body learns to physically rely on black tar heroin just to feel normal; as soon as the user stops, he or she will experience the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal.
In addition to blocking pain and producing a high, black tar generates a host of other effects on the body. Short-term effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Warm flushing of the skin
- Heavy feelings of the arms and legs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Poor mental functioning
- Nodding in and out of consciousness
Long-term black tar heroin effects include:
- Sclerosis: narrowing and hardening of veins due to injection
- Collapsed veins due to injection
- Increased risk of bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV and hepatitis, from sharing needles
- Blood clotting
- Blood poisoning
- Infection of heart lining and valves
- Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Impaired motor skills
- Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
- Narcotic Bowel Syndrome: nausea, vomiting, abdominal distension, and chronic constipation
- Lung complications, including pneumonia
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women
- Hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the brain)
- Death from overdose
Treatment for Addiction to Black Tar Heroin
While quitting black tar heroin is very challenging, it is not impossible. The proper treatment facility can provide the necessary support to overcome this addiction. Experienced professionals will guide the user through the difficult process of detoxification and withdrawal, which will remove all traces of the drug from the body. Detox is the critical first step in treatment, but users who quit black tar heroin must endure a variety of withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Sleep problems
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Cold flashes with goosebumps
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Severe cravings
Once the patient has made it through withdrawal, he or she will need to learn how to live without using black tar heroin. This includes addressing the underlying causes of the drug addiction, learning how to handle stress without turning to drug use, and learning to avoid triggers. One treatment approach that can be effective in treating black tar heroin addiction is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts, rather than our situation, cause our feelings, which can be helpful because we may not be able to control the situation but we can control our thoughts. In this approach, patients learn rational, self-counseling skills to help them change their own thoughts and behaviors. Therapists work with the patients to set goals–in this case, sobriety–and use the patient’s own abilities and intelligence to achieve that goal. For example, therapists can help the patient understand how and why they turned to drug abuse in the first place, and can teach them techniques to prevent relapse, such as avoiding triggers for drug use and managing cravings. This would include specific plans, such as severing relationships with friends who abuse drugs, avoiding situations where drugs will be present, and practice stress management techniques.
Profiles of Young Adults Addicted to Black Tar Heroin
The documentary “Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street” profiles young adults in San Francisco, struggling with heroin addiction. At the time the documentary was made, heroin overdose was the number one cause of death for young adults in the city. The interviews with these addicts, and the footage of their abuse, and the conditions of addicts on the streets of San Francisco, paint a grim picture of how devastating an addiction to heroin really is.
Tracey: Tracey moved to San Francisco in hopes of experiencing the world, wanting to try everything once–including heroin. An exceptionally bright child, she struggled with depression and compulsive eating. When this documentary shows her at the age of 21, she is shooting up heroin on the street. Her childhood dream was to grow up to become a lawyer and a mother, but in San Francisco, she becomes a heroin addict arrested for selling drugs. Her time in prison is the first time in three years that she has been clean. When interviewed upon her release, Tracey speaks of how much she still hopes to become a mother, but not until she can get clean. To do so, she knows that she will have to get out of the “drug environment,” but acknowledges that it will be very difficult, stating that she came to San Francisco for drugs in the first place.
Jake: Jake was born to a heroin-addicted mother who has no idea who his father might be. His life is consumed with his heroin addiction. Each day, he wakes up, spends half an hour to an hour finding a usable vein, and gets his fix. His drug addiction makes it impossible for Jake to work, and he has “too much of a conscience” to steal, so he makes a living as a prostitute. Jake describes how awful it is to work as a prostitute, both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, he finds it degrading and feels that certain customers go out of their way to demean him. Physically, he has been raped four times, in addition to whatever risks he exposes himself to by engaging in sex with so many partners.
Jessica: Jessica’s story highlights how very difficult it is to overcome heroin addiction. When we meet her, she has been sober two months after nearly dying from an overdose. She pledges her commitment to sobriety, stating that “I know if I use I’ll die.” But shortly thereafter, she goes on welfare and spends her check on heroin. Even a close call with death is not enough to deter her from using heroin.
These storied illustrate the challenges of black tar heroin addiction. If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, call our toll-free number today. Help is available.