Heroin cutting agents are included in heroin sold on the streets. These cutting agents can be extremely harmful.

Heroin is a highly addictive and illicit opioid drug that is often cut with other substances and sold on the streets. These cutting agents can be dangerous; in some cases, they’re more harmful than the heroin itself.

Many times, people who buy heroin have no idea whether cutting agents are present in the drug. There’s typically no way to determine if a batch of heroin contains other ingredients, let alone the kinds of ingredients present. As a result, a person using heroin could unknowingly take a powerful drug like fentanyl and overdose.

What Are Heroin Cutting Agents?

Cutting heroin means combining the drug with another substance to “dilute” the heroin and increase its street value. The practice of cutting drugs increases the profits for the dealer.

Some of the most common heroin cutting agents include:

  • Corn starch
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Citric acid
  • Fructose
  • Lactose (milk sugar or powdered milk)
  • Mannitol (diuretic)
  • Sodium chloride

Heroin cutting agents that dilute the substance are often irritants that can damage the sinuses or blood vessels, depending on whether it is snorted or injected.

Heroin may also contain “adulterants,” which are active drugs that produce additional effects. These are not used to dilute the sample, and some drug dealers add adulterants to create their own unique product.

Some examples of adulterants may include:

  • Acetylsalicylic acid: Also known as aspirin, this drug can be toxic for certain people with allergies or coagulation disorders.
  • Caffeine: This drug may subjectively ‘decrease’ the effects of heroin. Caffeine can cause problems for people with heart concerns.
  • Cocaine: This drug can increase the product’s addictive potential.
  • Diphenhydramine: Also known as Benadryl, this drug can increase feelings of sleepiness.
  • Strychnine: Strychnine is a highly toxic pesticide. It can cause poisoning that may result in muscular convulsions and even death.

Cutting Heroin with Fentanyl

Heroin is made from poppy plants that are first turned into morphine and then heroin. Fentanyl and carfentanil are synthetic, however, meaning they can be manufactured without poppy plants as starting materials.

Fentanyl is a highly powerful synthetic opioid that is regularly found in heroin because it is cheap and easy to make. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin. It’s so potent that coming in contact with even a tiny amount of fentanyl can cause an overdose or death (See: Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms).

Another especially dangerous heroin cutting product is carfentanil, a large animal tranquilizer. The DEA estimates carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, and just a few grains can kill you almost immediately if you don’t have an opioid tolerance.

When a batch of heroin cut with fentanyl or carfentanil hits a particular city or town, there’s often a short-term spike in overdoses and deaths. These drugs are so powerful that first responders have to wear protective gear when they think they may be coming in contact with them at the scene of an overdose.

The Dangers of Cutting Heroin

Heroin is an illicit drug that can only be purchased on the streets, which increases the risks associated with its use. There is no way to determine when illegal drugs like heroin are cut with other substances. Every time a person does heroin, they’re taking a chance.

When someone uses heroin or another opioid, the drug binds to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. This action causes a euphoric high and pain relief, but it also suppresses respiration. When someone overdoses on heroin or another opioid, their breathing becomes so slow they go into a coma or die. Along with the risk of overdose, heroin also quickly leads to addiction. Addiction can cause breakdowns in a person’s career, relationships and life in general.

Heroin Deaths

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA), around 948,000 people used heroin in 2016. Even more startling was the number of fatal overdoses related to heroin. That number was 2,089 in 2002, and it rose to more than 13,200 in 2016 — an increase of 533%.

How The Recovery Village Can Help

If you or someone you love is struggling with an opioid addiction, help is available at The Recovery Village. Our caring representatives are available around the clock to discuss treatment options, so those seeking help can feel free to call at any time. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment and recovery programs that can work well for your situation.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

Drug Enforcement Administration. “DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning To Police And Public.” September 2016. Accessed October 4, 2021.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “DEA Launches Project Wave Breaker to Sto[…]d of Deadly Fentanyl.” April 2021. Accessed October 4, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Effects Does Heroin Have on the Body?” June 2021. Accessed October 4, 2021.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “America’s Behavioral Health Changes and Challenges.” 2016. Accessed October 4, 2021.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Methods for Impurity Profiling of Heroin and Cocaine.” 2005. Accessed October 4, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.