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Deadliest Drugs in the U.S.

deadliest drugs

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), nearly 841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. In the US, over 70,000 deaths were attributed to overdose in 2019 alone. Opioids, mainly synthetic opioids (in particular fentanyl) are the leading driver of overdose death, with 72.9% of opioids involved opioid deaths involving synthetic opioids. The US does not track death rates for every drug, however the National Center for Health Statistics which is a part of the CDC collects information on deaths involving the most commonly used drugs. The most dangerous and deadliest drugs do include certain prescription drugs as well as illicit drugs, and combinations of both. Many of these drugs are considered to be safe if taken on their own at the correct doses however can be fatal if taken in excess or when combined with other substances.


Tobacco is still considered the one of the most deadly drugs in the US since tobacco smoking can lead to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It has also been linked to other cancers, leukemia, Type 2 Diabetes, pneumonia and increases risk of heart disease leading to stroke or heart attack. Secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke can also lead to lung cancer and heart disease while also leading to other health issues such as coughing, reduction in lung function, pneumonia, bronchitis. In 2016, the FDA issued new nationwide tobacco regulations that extended to all tobacco products included: e-cigarettes (and their liquid solutions), cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco. Ultimately, more Americans die from tobacco-related health issues than from reported drug overdoses, traffic accidents and homicides combines. 

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

A common medicine cabinet staple, acetaminophen, is regularly used for pain relief and as a fever reducer. It is considered to be one of the deadliest drugs in the US because of its potential to cause liver damage. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), acetaminophen is the country’s leading cause of acute liver failure. Additionally, approximately 450 deaths each year can be attributed to acetaminophen overdoses, with about a quarter of these being unintentional. Acetaminophen overdoses also account for 50,000 visits to the emergency room and 25,000 hospitalizations yearly. 


According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the US yearly, or approximately 261 deaths per day. Alcohol, which is a highly socially accepted drug, can affect every organ in the body. It is estimated to shorten the lives of those who drink excessively by approximately 29 years, for a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost. Thus, alcohol abuse is the leading cause of preventable death in the US. Long term alcohol abuse can lead to a variety of cancers, liver disease and heart disease. Too much drinking acutely can lead to drug overdose, suicide, car accidents.

Opioids (Natural, semi-synthetic and methadone)

Natural opioids include morphine and codeine. Common semi-synthetic opioids include Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin which are often prescribed as pain killers in postoperative patients. In some cases, opioids are also prescribed for cough and diarrhea. Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat pain that can also be provided as a part of opioid treatment. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. 

The issue with opioids is that they are highly addictive and are commonly misused by patients when not monitored closely. When taken recreationally, opioids are often combined with other drugs to increase its intoxication effect, which significantly increases the risk of fatal overdoses. According to the CDC, between 1999-2019, nearly 247,000 people died in the US from prescription opioids. In 2019, an average of 38 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, making opioids some of the deadliest drugs in the country.

Many states are reporting exponential increases in fentanyl-related overdose deaths. This often occurs because users of illicit drugs are unaware that their drugs: heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, counterfeit Xanax and Oxycodone, may be adulterated with fentanyl. This often occurs in the black market where the fentanyl is added to the drug supply prior to entering the US leaving domestic sellers unaware that their drug products might be contaminated with fentanyl. Unfortunately fentanyl overdoses can occur very rapidly, sometimes with the needle still inserted. 

Naloxone or Narcan, is an effective and safe antidote to opioid-related overdoses and can be used in suspected overdoses. Many states have expanded who can administer naloxone and have also conducted training for naloxone use as a part of harm reduction.


Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are commonly prescribed for anxiety, sedation and sleep issues. When taken as prescribed, benzodiazepines provide clinical benefit to patients. However when combined with other drugs such as alcohol, barbiturates, opioids or other antidepressants. The FDA has a black box warning against using benzodiazepines and opioids. Drug overdoses involving benzodiazepines rose from 1,135 in 1999 to 11,537 in 2017. 

Other dangerous drugs based on their risk of addiction, their negative interactions with other medications include:

  • Anticoagulants (Warfarin) because of its potential for drug interactions with medications and alcohol
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs) because of their potential for abuse and addiction as well as side effects
  • Anti-hypertensive drugs because of their side effects
  • Bromocriptine, a medication used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, due to its potential drug interactions
  • Cocaine because of its risk for stroke, heart attack and addictive nature
  • Colchicine due to its potential for toxicity
  • Cough medicine which can be used to make methamphetamine
  • Digoxin, a heart medication which can have negative interactions
  • Heroin because of its addictive nature
  • MDMA due to its potential for overdose
  • NSAIDs due to harmful side effects
  • Sildenafil, used for erectile dysfunction due to its potential interactions
  • Statins, due to adverse reactions

Drug Rehab in California

If you or someone you care about has a problem with substance or alcohol use, Asana Recovery can help. Contact Asana Recovery or give us a call today at 949-763-3440. Our trained professionals will walk you through the admissions process and make sure all of your questions are answered. The first step is admitting you need help, and is often the hardest. Once you take that first step, there will be a team on your side to help you be successful in your new future.