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Cold Preparation of Heroin in a Black Tar Market

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Black tar heroin is typically prepared for injection with heat which decreases the risk of HIV transmission by inactivating the virus. We received reports that persons who inject drugs (PWID) in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, a black tar heroin market, were using only water to dissolve heroin.


Because Tijuana abuts San Diego County, CA, United States, we undertook the present analyses to determine the prevalence of this practice among PWID in San Diego, California.


PWID completed quarterly behavioral assessments and serological testing for blood-borne viruses. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression models were constructed to assess for individual, social, and structural correlates of preparing heroin without heat within the preceding 6 months.


Nearly half of black tar heroin users (149/305) reported they had prepared heroin without heat within 6 months. In multivariable analysis, cold preparation was independently associated with younger age (10 year decrease; AOR = 1.25; 95% CI 1.03, 1.53), more drug injecting acquaintances (per 5 acquaintance increase; AOR = 1.05; 95% CI 1.01, 1.09) and prefilled syringe use (injecting drugs from syringes that are already filled with drugs before purchase; AOR = 1.86; 95% CI 1.14, 3.02). Conclusions/Importance: To our knowledge, this is the first paper to report that PWID living in a black tar heroin market are preparing heroin without heat. Additional research is needed to determine whether this is an endemic practice or PWID are engaging in new forms of drug preparation in response to changes in the environment.

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