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A Comprehensive Drug Identification Guide

It goes without saying that the more you know about drugs, i.e., what they look like and how they’re used, the better you’ll be at identifying if a loved one is using them.

To that end, here we have a drug identification guide of some commonly used drugs.


Heroin is an illicit opioid that is synthesized from morphine, in other words, it’s a powerful illegal drug. Because it produces similar effects to prescription opioids, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that “prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use”.

Drug overdose deaths that involved heroin went from 1,960 in 1999 to 14,019 in 2019, with nearly 130,000 dying from 1999 to 2019.

Because there is no currently accepted medical use for heroin it’s listed as a Schedule I drug but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

What It Looks Like

NIDA notes that “heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin”

How It’s Commonly Used & Ingested

The drug can be taken in several ways; injected, snorted, sniffed or smoked.


Cocaine is a stimulant that’s intensely addictive. It’s derived from coca leaves and was chewed for millennia by people in South America for that stimulant effect. In modern times the chemical was purified and used in elixirs, most famously Coca-Cola.

Surprisingly, as NIDA describes it, cocaine does have a legitimate medical use, “such as local anesthesia for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries”. This makes it a Schedule II drug by the DEA.

What It Looks Like

When using the illegal version, cocaine looks like a fine white powder.

How It’s Commonly Used & Ingested

It’s most commonly snorted, injected or rubbed on the gums. It can also be processed into a rock crystal and smoked, which is known as crack.


OxyContin is a prescription opioid used to relieve moderate to severe pain and is among the drugs at the center of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. An epidemic that has claimed roughly 841,000 lives since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2019, according to NIDA, “nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses”. As mentioned, OxyContin is one of the most common drugs involved in opioid overdose deaths, with Methadone and Vicodin rounding out the main 3, as per the CDC.

The DEA classes this as a Schedule II drug.

What It Looks Like

It comes in both pill and liquid form.

How It’s Commonly Used & Ingested

When taken as prescribed, OxyContin is generally swallowed. When abused, it is commonly crushed and snorted or dissolved in water and injected.


Xanax, or alprazolam as it’s known scientifically, is a prescription sedative generally used to treat insomnia and anxiety. It’s one of the most common benzodiazepines out there.

Given what they’re used for, this class of drugs is known as depressants because they depress the central nervous system and work to sedate a person. Sort of the opposite of stimulants like cocaine.

A big danger with the recreational use of benzodiazepines is mixing them with alcohol, which can be fatal.

Xanax is considered a Schedule IV drug by the DEA because it has a lower potential for abuse and risk of dependence.

What It Looks Like

It comes in pill and liquid form.

How It’s Commonly Used & Ingested

As prescribed, it’s normally swallowed. When being abused, Xanax is often crushed in order to snort, smoke or dissolve in water to inject.

Learn More About Identifying Drugs & Addiction at Laguna View Detox

To learn more about these or other drugs and what to do if you suspect someone you care about is using them, reach out to us at Laguna View Detox for more information. We are ready to help you or your loved one today overcome addiction. 

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