Heroin is a drug that comes in many shapes and sizes. Various types of heroin are currently available “on the street” in just about every city and town in America.
In the eastern United States, heroin is typically imported from Afghanistan and Columbia and appears as a white, off-white, or light brown/tan powder, but unlike cocaine it does not have a crystalline structure visible to the human eye; it has a consistency more like powdered milk. Generally, the purer the heroin, the whiter the color, because variations in color result from the presence of impurities.
Powder heroin in the eastern United states usually comes in small wax baggies, known as "stamps", because these same bags are used by philatelists to preserve their stamps. It is typical for a brand-name to be on the bag to differentiate it from other batches and establish brand loyalty among junkies. Brand names range from the comical to the morbid; examples: "Superman", "Cookies and Cream", "Big Shot", and "Suicide".
In the western United States, heroin generally comes from Mexico. Mexican heroin appears as a dark brown powder or a black "tar" substance, commonly referred to as "black tar" heroin. Black tar heroin may be sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal.
Black tar heroin almost always comes packaged in rubber balloons, and powdered heroin sometimes does as well. Balloons are used because the resin content of tar heroin tends to leach out through paper wrapping and balloons provide the heroin dealer a means of quickly disposing of the drug if confronted by the police by simply swallowing the balloon(s).
Finding completely pure heroin is a statistical improbability. Every bag of heroin on the street has been cut to increase the profit margin. While pure heroin is what most addicts strive to buy, most often it is cut with other additives that include everything from powdered milk, starch or lactose to poisons such as quinine or strychnine, to name only a few.
It is a popular misconception that eastern powdered heroin is more potent than Mexican brown and black tar heroin or vice versa. Since all heroin on the street is diluted to a varying degrees, there is no way to determine if one is more potent than the other. Tar heroin has been known to supercede eastern powder, just as eastern powder has been known to supercede the other, in terms of purity and potency.