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Heroin Cutting Agents

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Christina Caplinger, RPh

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Last Updated - 12/28/2022

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Updated 12/28/2022

Learn more about what is used to cut heroin and the risks associated with various heroin cutting agents.

Heroin is a dangerous, addictive opioid drug that is related to morphine. Heroin use can be deadly since it suppresses the nervous system. Its action in the brain and nervous system causes a sense of euphoria as well as pain relief, but it has a dangerous slowing effect on breathing. During a heroin overdose, the respiratory rate can become low enough to cause coma and even death.

Heroin use and heroin overdoses resulting in death are increasing in the United States. In 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 15,000 people died due to heroin-related causes. This is almost 5 times the number of heroin-related deaths that occurred in 2010.

Related Topic: heroin overdose

Heroin is dangerous enough on its own, but like other illicit drugs, heroin is often cut with other substances by people selling and distributing it. This can happen unbeknownst to the person buying the heroin. Some cutting agents are fairly harmless, like powdered milk or sugar, but many times, they are very dangerous. Sometimes the cutting agents are far more dangerous, even, than the heroin itself. It’s difficult to determine whether heroin has been adulterated with cutting agents since they usually look very similar to powdered heroin.

Why Are Drugs Cut?

Street drugs are often cut with other substances for distributors to make more money. By adding other powders or chemicals to drugs like heroin, drug dealers can make it look like a more of the drug is being purchased, when in reality, some of it is the filler. Adding fillers like baby powder, sugar or other substances can stretch a batch of heroin further.

Sometimes drugs are cut to make them stronger or to create a more intense high in the user. Stronger opioids such as fentanyl or carfentanil may be cut into heroin, which can increase the opioid effect but are also very dangerous. In this situation, cutting heroin with a more potent opioid may cause the user to become more tolerant of the drug, which often increases heroin cravings. This can lead to a person spending more and more money on heroin, again, making it desirable for a dealer to use this method of cutting. It only takes a very small amount of stronger opioids to increase the opioid effect, so, unfortunately, it can be very cost-effective for someone who sells heroin.

What Is Heroin Cut With?

Heroin can be cut with any number of substances. Usually, a white powdery substance is used to cut heroin, such as sugar, powdered milk, laundry detergent, baby powder or baking soda. Some of these substances are fairly inert, and simply weaken the concentration of heroin, but some of them are dangerous when snorted or injected into the body. Sometimes heroin is cut with a substance that can hide the symptoms of an overdose, but this does not lessen the chance of an overdose situation. Caffeine, for example, may mask heroin overdose symptoms.

The Dangers of Drug Cutting Agents

Heroin is illegal, so it is only available for purchase on the streets or via other black market means. There is no quality control or assurance that the heroin that is being sold is pure in any way. This means that it is very risky to purchase and use heroin, no matter where it comes from. Cutting heroin with various substances has been done for years to increase profits. More recently, heroin is being cut with very strong opioids including fentanyl and carfentanil. These chemicals are major players in the increased heroin overdoses and deaths that occur throughout the country.

When buying an illicit drug like heroin, there is no way to know if it has been mixed with something else. It is very risky to use heroin for this reason.

It’s important to remember that even if heroin is cut with a household substance like sugar or baby powder, it can still be very dangerous. These products are not sterile and can cause serious consequences like bloodstream infections and tissue damage if injected into the body.

Finding Help for Heroin Addiction

If you or someone you know might be struggling with heroin addiction, the specialists at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us to learn about individualized treatment options.

View Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Opioid Overdose – Heroin.” December 28, 2018. Accessed October 27, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Heroin.” Accessed October 27, 2019.