China White

China White is a slang term that was once used to refer to very pure forms of heroin. Today, many people say China White is fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative called alpha-methylfentanyl.
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Street names for drugs change constantly. They’re often misused, and drug dealers frequently lie about what they’re selling. That’s why a lot of confusion exists about what China White is. The term has also evolved throughout the years.

Today, China White may refer to:

  • A pure form of heroin
  • Heroin mixed with fentanyl
  • Fentanyl
  • Alpha-methylfentanyl

Heroin is a drug that belongs to a class of drugs called opioids. Fentanyl is an opioid that’s between 25 and 50 times stronger than heroin. The potency of each of these drugs varies on the street. Alpha-methylfentanyl is a designer drug that is usually similar in potency to fentanyl.

Learn more about the differences between heroin and fentanyl

History of China White

China White was originally a street name for a very pure form of heroin. It was likely called China White because it was first imported from China. Pure heroin also looks like white powder.

A new form of fentanyl — alpha-methylfentanyl — was discovered in California in the 1980s, according to a 1981 study published in Analytical Chemistry. Some dealers are believed to have mixed alpha-methylfentanyl with China White heroin during that time period. That may be how alpha-methylfentanyl came to be known as China White.

Street names for drugs change over time, and some people started calling any form of fentanyl the nickname China White.

Heroin addiction became more prevalent throughout the 2000s, and criminal chemists learned how to create fentanyl in illicit labs. With increased access to fentanyl, dealers began mixing the drug and its derivatives with heroin more often, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Today, it’s impossible to know what’s in China White that’s bought on the street. Drugs named China White have been linked to heroin overdose deaths across the United States. People who buy China White may think they’re buying heroin and end up using a drug that’s much stronger than they anticipated.

China White Overdoses

Using any type of heroin is dangerous because it’s impossible for most people to know what’s in the powder that they’re about to snort or inject. White heroin is particularly dangerous because it’s easy for dealers to conceal fentanyl or similarly colored drugs in the white powder.

Black tar heroin and brown heroin are less likely to contain fentanyl because it’s hard to conceal fentanyl in those drugs. However, no type of heroin is 100 percent safe.

In 2015, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that heroin laced with fentanyl was being sold as China White in the northeast United States. Numerous newspapers and media outlets have reported on China White overdose outbreaks across the United States since 2015.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in a study of 10 states, half of all deadly opioid overdoses involved fentanyl. The 2017 study examined deaths that occurred during the second half of 2016 in states in diverse geographic locations. It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths were caused by heroin laced with other substances or fentanyl that was sold as China White.

Why China White Is Called Synthetic Heroin

The term synthetic is often misunderstood on the street. Synthetic refers to something that’s man-made, and synthetic drugs are usually made to mimic a naturally occurring drug. Synthetic drugs are not necessarily the same strength or as safe as the drugs they’re supposed to mimic.

Heroin doesn’t occur naturally, but some drugs are created to mimic its effects.

Drug traffickers created fentanyl and its derivatives in illicit labs to enhance or replace heroin on the street. That’s why fentanyl and alpha-methylfentanyl are sometimes called synthetic heroin.

China White has also been called synthetic heroin because the street term has been used to refer to fentanyl and alpha-methylfentanyl.

Like all street drugs, China White and other drugs labeled synthetic heroin are dangerous. Most people have no idea what’s in the powder that they’re buying. They also don’t know what strength they’re buying.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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