Which are the Deadliest Drugs for Americans Today?

Which are the deadliest drugs today

What does the phrase “deadliest drugs” mean to you? You might think of street drugs such as cocaine or heroin, or highly addictive prescription painkillers such as OxyContin. Alcohol and tobacco might not come to mind at all. In truth, legal or illegal, prescription or recreational, all of these drugs can be deadly. Many times, the deadliest drugs are not those we hear about the most.

Some of the Deadliest Illegal Drugs


Cocaine is an illegal stimulant which dealers sell on the street as a fine white powder. Users snort cocaine, rub it on their gums, or mix it with water to inject into the bloodstream. Crack cocaine is a crystallized form that users smoke.

However it enters the body, cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain, creating a “high” feeling of happiness, alertness, and high energy. Adverse side effects include paranoia, irritability, and hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch. As a stimulant, cocaine causes increased heart rate, restlessness, and muscle twitches. A cocaine overdose can cause death by heart attack, stroke or seizure. Cocaine users are also at risk for infection with HIV and hepatitis C.


Heroin is an incredibly addictive illegal street drug derived from morphine. Alarmingly, more than 2000 people die each year from heroin use. It sells on the street as either a brown or white powder or black tar heroin. Users smoke, inject, or snort it. The body converts it to morphine, which binds to receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Dopamine then floods the brain, blocking pain messages and producing a pleasurable high.  A heroin overdose causes hypoxia or reduced breathing rate, which deprives the brain of oxygen, leading to death, coma, and brain damage.

Heroin users can also suffer from:

  • collapsed veins
  • liver and kidney disease
  • other infections

Deaths From Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

Prescription Drugs

A common misconception is that medication prescribed by a doctor must be safe, but even prescription drugs have the potential for abuse. Opioids affect the brain in the same way as heroin and carry the highest risk of abuse and dependency. Common opioid painkillers include:

  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin)
  • Hydrocodone with acetaminophen
  • Oxycodone (such as OxyContin)
  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine

The greatest risk is that an overdose of opioid painkillers can cause immediate death from hypoxia. Furthermore, long-term use or abuse can lead to bowel problems, liver damage or failure, kidney damage or failure, and heart damage. Opioid abuse is on the rise, with deaths from overdose increasing each year. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from opioid use. Opiates and opioids are today the deadliest drugs in the US.

Legal but Two of the Deadliest Drugs


While legal for adults over the age of 21, alcohol causes serious adverse side effects, including death, when used to excess. The liver metabolizes alcohol but can only process a certain amount at a time. Whatever the body cannot process goes directly into the bloodstream.  Alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain and central nervous system, impairing reaction time, motor skills, balance, and judgment. Death can result from:

  • Car accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Drowning
  • Falling
  • Violence

Long-term alcohol abuse can also be fatal by leading to chronic illnesses such as:

  • Liver cirrhosis and failure
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Cancer

Deaths resulting from alcohol total 80,000 per year.


Like alcohol, tobacco use is legal for adults, in this case, adults over the age of 18. Tobacco use, whether it is cigarettes or chewing tobacco, causes many illnesses leading to disability and death. Nearly every organ in the body is affected, causing diseases such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Lung diseases
  • Diabetes

These effects are not limited to the user. As a matter of fact, secondhand smoke causes roughly 41,000 deaths per year among non-smoking adults and 400 deaths in infants.

Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery

While addiction to any of these substances is a challenge, recovery is possible. Choices Recovery can help. Call for yourself or someone you care about.

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