What Do Drugs Look Like?

Training the Eye: A Guide to What Drugs Look Like and How to Identify Them by Appearance

What do drugs look like, exactly? It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer, but it’s never been more important to get it right. Overdose deaths in the United States continue to reach record levels. The crisis affects all age groups, and fatalities among children and teenagers have skyrocketed over the past year. New, cheaper, and more potent street drugs are flooding the market on a consistent basis.

At the same time, the incredibly deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl is finding its way into around 40 percent of cocaine, heroin, and prescription opioid supplies, causing users to take them without knowing that one pill or dose can kill.

Everyone Should Be Asking What Drugs Look Like

Friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors of people vulnerable to addiction can help protect them by knowing what drugs look like and how to identify different drugs by appearance. This will also help users who are transitioning to treatment avoid deadly situations. Here are some insights on how to tell what different drugs look like.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

There are multiple types of heroin, and the drug comes in different forms and colors. Determining what heroin looks like depends on what kind you’re seeing:

  • Black Tar Heroin – Black tar heroin looks like a sticky block of dark-brown goo. Its crude refining process gives it its sticky texture and brown appearance. Although its popularity has decreased over the past few decades, it’s still important to know what black tar heroin looks like.
  • Brown Powder Heroin – Brown power heroin’s appearance is revealed in its name. It’s a brown, granular substance that starts out as black tar heroin and is further refined and cut with lactose and other additives.
  • White Powder Heroin – White powder heroin is considered heroin in its “purest” form. As the name suggests, it’s a fine white powder and a salt form of the drug, known as diacetylmorphine hydrochloride, often mixed with other white powders that decrease potency and increase the risk of contamination and infection.

A general rule of thumb is the shinier and whiter the appearance, the purer the product is.

What Does Cocaine Look Like?

The appearance of cocaine depends on its stage of production. Raw cocaine, harvested from coca leaves before refinement and processing, can look like a flaky or rock-like substance. Once it’s refined further, it generally looks like the white powder with which most people are familiar. Crack cocaine is a less pure but highly potent and addictive form of cocaine that looks like white, yellowish, off-white rocks.

What Does Meth Look Like?

Meth can be harder to identify by appearance because it often shares the same physical properties as cocaine or heroin. It can be a fine white powder or chalky-looking white pill. Crystal meth, on the other hand, is easier to detect because it looks like pieces of glass or blue-white rocks. Rather than trying to determine what meth looks like, it’s often easier to be mindful of the ingredients used to make it and keep an eye for those. These often include:

  • Sulfuric, muriatic, or hydrochloric acid
  • Coffee filters that have strange stains or powders on them
  • Funnels and turkey basters
  • Improvised glassware
  • Cold medication containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in large quantities
  • Lithium batteries

Baking soda is another tell-tale ingredient of meth production, of which loved ones of users should be mindful.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like? 

Fentanyl is among the leading drivers of overdose deaths simply because one pill can kill. The drug is a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine that is being used to cut more and more street drugs. Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl were 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013. These drugs kill over 150 people a day. Dealers are using fentanyl to mix with cocaine, heroin, and prescriptions because it’s cheaper and much more powerful.

Fentanyl is even more dangerous because it looks a lot like other street drugs and prescriptions. When sold in powder form, it looks a lot like pure white heroin or cocaine; when sold in a pill form, it can look nearly identical to an oxycodone tablet. You may be able to tell the difference between fentanyl and other prescription drugs by looking for darkening or discoloration that suggests a difference.

Fentanyl test strips and kits can help you protect yourself from unwittingly taking the drug.

Importance of Knowing What Do Drugs Look Like

Now that you know what drugs look like, you can better protect yourself, your friend, or your loved one from taking a potentially deadly risk. If you find that someone you care about are struggling with drug addiction, Recovery Unplugged is ready to help you take your life back. We offer multiple levels of care, are in-network with most major insurance companies, and have locations across the country and virtual treatment to help make care as convenient as possible. Don’t let your eyes deceive you. Get help now for yourself or your loved one.