Heroin typically comes in three forms: a white powder, a brown powder and a black, gooey substance known as black tar heroin.
In the 1990s, most of the world’s supply of brown powdered heroin originated in Southwest Asia. Today, most brown heroin found in the United States is produced in Mexico.
Like other forms of heroin, brown heroin is made from morphine, which comes from the milky sap of opium poppy seeds.
Brown powder heroin is usually a more highly refined form of heroin than black tar. It can also be crushed black tar heroin that has been mixed, or cut, with antihistamines, lactose, laxatives, coffee creamer or other substances. Adding these other ingredients makes the black tar heroin easier to inhale or snort.
Heroin has several different looks; even brown powder can range in color from a light tannish brown to darker shades of brown depending on what it’s cut with. It usually has a strong vinegar smell, similar to black tar heroin, but the smell of heroin can differ dramatically depending on its chemical components and purity.
Brown heroin is sometimes known as Mexican brown on the street. Other street names include brown sugar, brown crystal, Mr. Brownstone or brown.
Brown heroin tends to be cheaper than white powder heroin and more aesthetically appealing than cruder forms of heroin, such as black tar.
And because heroin can be smoked or snorted, it’s made a splash in rural and suburban communities across the country, ensnaring teens, young adults and others who might never have considered injecting heroin.
Many people first begin using brown heroin after previously using prescription opioid painkillers. In some cases, they don’t even realize what they’re using is heroin.
Victoria Ortiz, a pharmacy technician in San Antonio, told the San Antonio-Express News that she developed an addiction and physical dependence on the prescription opioid Vicodin after a doctor prescribed it to her for back pain.
When her physician realized she was addicted, he cut her off, Ortiz told the paper.
That’s when a friend encouraged Ortiz to snort some brown. Ortiz didn’t realize at the time that she was snorting heroin — all she knew was that the high she felt was “10 times better” than Vicodin.
Some people mistakenly believe that brown heroin is not as addictive as other types of heroin. Others believe that you can’t become addicted if you snort the drug.
In fact, brown heroin is just as addictive as any opioid. Heroin is addictive because it manipulates the pleasure and reward system in the brain.
Regardless of how it’s ingested, brown heroin binds to special receptors in the brain that block pain and cause an intense feeling of euphoria. This makes heroin feel like an intense euphoria that causes a person to want to use the drug again and again.
With continued use, people can easily develop a physical dependence on heroin, which causes them to develop mild to severe heroin withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using the drug. Some people continue to use heroin for years to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
According to Jane C. Maxwell, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, the average time between first inhaling heroin and entering treatment is approximately seven years in Texas.
Opioid addiction is also deadly. More than 42,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2016. Many of those fatal overdoses involved heroin that was laced with other substances, such as fentanyl and carfentanil. These synthetic opioids are hundreds to thousands of times stronger than morphine.
A type of brown powder heroin nicknamed “cheese heroin” or “cheese” received a great deal of media attention when it caused a string of deaths in the Dallas area between 2005 and 2007.
The tannish powder with a granular texture similar to grated cheese was a dangerous concoction of heroin and the antihistamine diphenhydramine. Cheese, which was sold for as little as $2 a dose, was particularly popular among Hispanic teens and adolescents — and highly addictive.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse found that most Hispanic adolescents in Dallas who used cheese started using the drug when they were 13 and a half, and they were addicted by the time they were 14. Nearly 75 percent had overdosed on the drug at least once.
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Overcoming an addiction to brown heroin is challenging, but the safest approach is to seek professional heroin treatment.
Many people continue to take heroin, even when they want to stop, to avoid the agonizing withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the flu. With medically assisted heroin detox, however, many of those symptoms can be managed and minimized.
Addiction to brown heroin is treated in the same manner as any other opioid addiction — through a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling and medication.
Prescription medications are recognized as an integral part of the opioid rehab and treatment process. They can help a person overcome heroin addiction and avoid relapse by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These medications include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.
According to the San Antonio-Express News, daily doses of methadone are what finally helped Ortiz to overcome her addiction to brown heroin and get her life back on track.