Black tar heroin – Pure Death

Back in the 70s, heroin was mostly filler, and the good stuff was 5% pure or so. Nowadays a new, more potent, version of the stuff is killing people all around the country with widely varying purities as high as 90%.

What makes black tar dangerous

When heroin was weak, shooting it was the best way to get high, which kept many people away from it. But this relatively new stuff (it’s been around California for a while), brought in from Mexico and known by the name Black Tar, is strong enough to make smoking, or snorting, it a viable option for a nice long high. It’s a much easier sell for the dealers too – no more ugly needles, they tell their customers you can “just smoke it like weed,” which is true until you get hooked.

Black Tar HeroinLike any other form of heroin, black tar will cause some serious changes in a user’s body and brain, messing with the body’s pain, digestion, and mood systems. The problem is that at these purity levels, the chance of a user overdosing are much higher too, and that’s where the body-count comes in.

The stuff is cheap, at least in relation to the old heroin that used to come in from the far-east, but the body count’s mounting and the problems only getting worse. Heroin overdose death rates have gone up at 20%-50% and they’re still going strong. Many of the people who are most concerned about this are hoping that heroin doesn’t bring about the same epidemic that crack did in the 80s.

Avoiding death by talking

As usual, I don’t believe in running away from a problem like this. Instead, this is exactly the kind of thing that education, information, and a good dose of harm reduction can fix. We need to make sure people know that the potency of this stuff can kill you. The only way to make sure that less people die from black-tar heroin is to let them know that they need to be careful with it because one mistake can mean death.

I’m hardly ever the “just say no” type and I think that in this situation, an approach like that will leave us in deeper and deeper trouble. The AP article I based this on talked about yearly seizures of heroin quadrupling to 86 kilograms across the U.S.-Mexico border last year. By comparison, cocaine seizures in 2008 totaled more than 8000 Kilos! I can tell you one thing, as someone with experience as a drug dealer, getting 86 kilos across the border isn’t that hard with the amount of Mexican corruption and “help” dealers can get. Where’s there’s money, there’s a way, and it seems that this heroin trend is offering up some money.

Calderon honoring dead in drug warIt’s that experience of mine that makes me believe we have to work towards understanding addiction and who develops it, and getting better at prevention, intervention, and treatment. Try as we might, solving this problem by the supply side isn’t going to work, I don’t care how hard Calderon is willing to fight.

6 responses to “Black tar heroin – Pure Death”

  1. Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment…is all we have, and the more we learn about addiction, the better we will be able to handle it’s problems. Everyday I search the sites, for the new discoveries about the brain, and that is why the studies at UCLA (animal studies) as controversial as they have been, are so important. They save lives.

  2. The AP has been sensationalizing heroin with supposedly unprecedented strength since the 80s. They’ve even been recycling the same 5% number since at least 1988:

    Relatively small amounts of heroin coming from Mexico aren’t surprising, since most of the world’s opium production is an Afghanistan, courtesy of the CIA:,_afghanistan_as_a_drug_war__/

    It’s really quite ingenious of the government that they can make money producing opiates, seizing them, and jailing people for them, all at the same time. The whole scheme breaks down if the public stops being afraid of drugs.

    • Thanks for you comment, though I would say that the fact that new of potent heroin isn’t new doesn’t do anything to the notion of risk in its use. Also, if you carefully look over the numbers from the timeline of the article you linked to first, you’ll catch a nice trend upwards in potency from highs of 50%-60% in the late 80s, to 70% or so in the early-mid 90s, up to 80% and higher in the late 90s and 2000s. Overall, I’d say that’s an increasing trend, though I don’t have the data to run numbers on its statistical significance; maybe someday.

      Also, while there’s no question regarding the fact that most opium in the world comes from Afghanistan, I’d like to point out that the article itself simply points to the difficult reality of fighting in the country when eradicating the most profitable crop isn’t popular in any circle but is necessary to win the war. The article talks about the CIA and the U.S. government being complicit, not actively engaged, in opium production, as you suggested: “…the CIA’s covert war served as the catalyst that transformed the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands into the world’s largest heroin producing region.” Not exactly the same as the U.S. making heroin in Afghanistan…

  3. Wait isn’t drug purity a good thing? Isn’t the problem really variability, not purity? If the addict had a consistent product with consistent effects, they would be much less likely to accidentally inject a huge dose.

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