Heroin, an illegal opiate drug known on the street as smack, junk, brown sugar,
dope, horse, skunk and other names is derived from the resin of the poppy plant
which grows predominantly in southeast and southwest Asia, Mexico and now in Colombia.
It is manufactured in remote laboratories using rudimentary equipment which presses
the powder into bricks for bulk shipment to destination countries like the United
States. Smaller amounts are smuggled by couriers who swallow heroin-filled latex
balloons before boarding commercial airlines.
Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Most illicit heroin is a powder
form which may vary in color from white to dark brown because of impurities left
from the manufacturing process or the presence of additives. Pure heroin is rarely
sold on the street. A "bag" (slang for a single dosage unit of heroin) may contain
100 mg of powder, only a small portion of which is heroin. The remainder could be
sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Traditionally the purity of heroin in
a "bag" has ranged from one to ten percent. More recently, heroin purity has ranged
from one to ninety-eight percent, with a national average of thirty-five percent.
Another form of heroin, "black tar," has also become increasingly available in the
western United States. The color and consistency of black tar heroin results from
the crude processing methods used to illicitly manufacture the substance in Mexico.
Black tar heroin may be sticky, like roofing tar or hard like coal, and its color
may vary from dark brown to black. It is often sold on the street in its tar-like
state at purities ranging from twenty to eighty percent. This heroin is most frequently
dissolved, diluted and injected.
The typical heroin user today consumes more heroin than a typical user did just
a decade ago, which is not surprising given the higher purity currently available
at the street level. Until recently, heroin in the United States almost exclusively
was injected either intravenously, subcutaneous (skin-popping), or intramuscularly.
Injection is the most practical and efficient way to administer low-purity heroin.
The availability of higher purity heroin has meant that users now can snort or smoke
the narcotic. Evidence suggests that heroin snorting is widespread or increasing
in those areas of the country where high-purity heroin is available, generally in
the northeastern United States. This method of administration may be more appealing
to new users because it eliminates both the fear of acquiring syringe-borne diseases
such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and the historical stigma attached to intravenous