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What Is Purple Heroin?

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Nov 29, 2023 • 9 cited sources

Purple heroin is a term applied to a potent form of heroin that is purplish in color. It intermittently pops up in different locations across the country, causing a slew of overdose deaths and bringing attention to the drug problem in the area. 

This form of heroin is believed to be so strong because of the addition of synthetic opioids, though no one knows for sure what exactly is mixed in with the heroin or in what amounts. 

It is also not necessarily the case that the same ingredients are added to every batch of purple heroin that has shown up in different areas of the country. It may be that the only shared characteristic between these different batches of purple heroin that have been appearing over the years is the purplish color to the drug. 

What is Purple Heroin?

Why Is It Purple?

It is called purple because there is a purple tinge to the heroin, which is usually a brownish white powder. Some doctors believe that the purple tinge may not be natural but instead added as a marketing ploy to capitalize on the reputation that purple heroin has for being extremely potent/”good quality”. [1] 

No matter the color, heroin is always a risk. Almost every batch sold on the street is cut with other substances, oftentimes with synthetic opioids.

If heroin use is a problem for you or someone you love, reach out to Bicycle Health to learn how to treat heroin use disorder. 

How Potent Is Purple Heroin Compared to Regular Heroin? 

The potency of purple heroin compared to regular heroin is completely unpredictable. The color of heroin does not determine its potency or purity, as these factors are influenced by a variety of things, such as the source, processing and cutting agents used. 

The use of any form of heroin is highly dangerous. It can lead to addiction and serious health consequences, including overdose.[2]

Purple heroin, like any heroin available illicitly, is unmonitored and can be cut with synthetic opioids. It is impossible to know the ingredients of any batch of heroin. For that reason, all batches come with the risk of overdose and death. 

Purple heroin has the reputation of being especially strong and creating a wave of overdose deaths among users, but so does all street heroin. 

What Substances May Be Included in Purple Heroin?

It is impossible to know which cutting agents are mixed in with the heroin batches sold as purple heroin. Any of the following may be used to cut heroin: 

  • Fentanyl: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used medically as a pain medication and for anesthesia. It is estimated to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.[3] It is so potent that it can be fatal even in tiny amounts.
  • Etizolam: Etizolam is a benzodiazepine analog that is used as a hypnotic and anxiolytic drug. It is a CNS depressant that has a sedative effect and can be dangerous when used with other depressants like opioids.[6]
  • Brorphine: Brorphine is a synthetic opioid that has similar effects to heroin and may be sold on its own or mixed in with heroin.[7] It is derived from thebaine, which is an alkaloid found in the opium poppy plant, like morphine and heroin. Brorphine is a highly potent opioid that can cause respiratory depression, opioid use disorder and overdose, similar to heroin.
  • Xylazine: Xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer that is used to sedate large animals such as horses, cattle and swine.[8] It is a central nervous system depressant that belongs to the class of drugs known as alpha2-adrenergic agonists. Xylazine works by blocking the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which leads to sedation and muscle relaxation.

Is Purple Heroin safer or more dangerous than “regular” heroin?

As stated above, purple heroin is simply any heroin that has a purple color. In the past, certain batches of “purple heroin” have been more potent than others. However, just because the color is purple does not necessarily give us any information about what the heroin batch contains. It could be more or less potent than the “normal” or “regular” heroin that an individual is used to. 

At Bicycle Health, we advocate for effective treatment of heroin dependence, providing Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) in our unique telehealth model. When you are ready to put heroin use in the past, we can help you do it. 

Learn more about how medication like Suboxone can help you or your loved one stop using heroin safely and effectively.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

Sources
  1. The Informed Patient. Upstate Medical University. https://www.upstate.edu/informed/2022/060922-sullivan-podcast.php. June 2022. Accessed January 2023.
  2. Michigan Poison Center Issues Warning About 'Purple Heroin’. Wayne State University. https://today.wayne.edu/medicine/news/2020/10/14/michigan-poison-center-issues-warning-about-purple-heroin-40724. October 2020. Accessed January 2023.
  3. Fentanyl Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html. February 2022. Accessed January 2023.
  4. Carfentanil: A Dangerous New Factor in the U.S. Opioid Crisis. Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edky/file/898991/download. Accessed January 2023.
  5. Lethal High: Acetyl Fentanyl. US Pharmacisthttps://www.uspharmacist.com/article/lethal-high-acetyl-fentanyl. October 2016. Accessed January 2023.
  6. Etizolam. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Etizolam. Accessed January 2023.
  7. Brorphine. DEA Diversion Control Division. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/brorphine.pdf. July 2021. Accessed January 2023.
  8. An Animal Tranquilizer Is Making Street Drugs Even More Dangerous. NPR.  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/08/05/1114453468/animal-tranquilizer-street-drugs. August 2022. Accessed January 2023.
  9. Dangerous New Mix of Opioids and Benzo-Type Drug Has No Overdose Antidote, Alberta Health Officials Warn. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/opioids-benzos-drugs-warning-ahs-alberta-overdose-risk-1.5224390. July 2019. Accessed January 2023.

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