- A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked the 10 deadliest drugs in the United States.
- The rankings for 2016, the most recent year data is available, show that fentanyl is the most frequently mentioned drug in relation to overdose deaths.
- This marks the first time in four years that heroin has not been listed as the deadliest drug in America.
- Other deadly drugs include cocaine, oxycodone, and diazepam.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report ranking the most commonly used drugs involved in overdoses in the United States. The report, which analyzed death certificates for drug overdose deaths between 2011 and 2016, revealed fentanyl to be the deadliest drug in the country.
According to the report, drug overdoses from the synthetic opioid have increased exponentially over the last five years. In 2011, fentanyl accounted for 4% of drug overdoses; in 2016, it accounted for 28.8%. The increase is not that surprising, as opioid use has continued to rise in the US, according to a March CDC report.
This marks the first time in four years that heroin was not the most commonly-used drug involved in overdoses. That said, heroin still ranked high on the list, accounting for 25.1% of overdoses. Other drugs on the list include cocaine, oxycodone, and diazepam.
Here is a breakdown of the 10 deadliest drugs in America.
Fentanyl is a man-made opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Like other opioid drugs, it works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, driving up dopamine levels and leading to euphoria and relaxation.
Fentanyl is used legally to treat pain in medical settings. It can be administered by injection, a skin patch, or lozenges. But in the US, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses, death, and harm are linked to illegally made fentanyl, according to the CDC. On the street, it can be found as powder or pills. It also may be mixed with heroin or disguised as another, less potent opioid painkiller like oxycodone. Fentanyl’s potency means it comes with a high risk of overdose, especially if the user doesn’t know that a powder or pill contains the drug, according to NIDA.
Heroin is an illicit opioid drug that’s made from morphine, according to NIDA. It can be a white or brown powder or a sticky black substance that’s known as black tar heroin, and it can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Like other opioid drugs, it works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain.
Just as with other opioids, people who use it can experience fatal overdoses.
Cocaine is a powerful psychostimulant that, according to the American Addictions Center, is the second most trafficked drug in the United States. Like other stimulants, is works by activating key pleasure centers within the brain to cause a heightened euphoria
- Spencer Platt/Getty
In the early 1900s, a purified cocaine was used as a painkiller and to treat a variety of illnesses. (It was also used as an ingredient in the original Coca-Cola recipe.) It can still be administered by doctors for legitimate medical uses, but those instances are few and far between.
More commonly referred to as meth or crystal, methamphetamine is another stimulant drug that comes in the form of a powder. Users smoke, snort, or inject it, according to MedlinePlus.
Continued use of meth can alter the brain, resulting in reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. Meth use has also been found to affect areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory. In addition to the mental impact, the drug produces many physical side effects – specifically in the mouth. According to the American Dental Association, meth use can result in tooth decay that ranges from discoloration to crumbling of teeth.
Alprazolam is classified as a benzodiazepine – a type of drug often used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Unlike stimulants, these type of drugs work by decreasing extreme levels of excitement in the brain.
- Wikimedia Commons
Since alprazolam and other benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, many abusers have legitimate uses for them in the beginning. But the addiction-forming chemical properties combined with the side effects can make it easy for people to become addicted over time. In an effort to obtain the drugs, the American Addictions Center notes that people will “doctor shop” or turn to friends, family members, or co-workers for a fix.
This is comparable to opioid use and abuse. There are many people who need opioids to treat chronic pain. In fact, more than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines. This connection leads one to wonder what more we can be doing to monitor prescription drugs in the US.
Oxycodone falls under the opiate classification, and it is used to treat moderate to severe pain. According to the CDC report, oxycodone was deemed the deadliest drug in 2011. Since then, it has been surpassed by other opioids.
- John Moore/Getty Images
Prescription opioids like oxycodone are generally safe for treating pain when used for a short period of time, but because they can make people feel relaxed or high, some people misuse the medications. They may take the drugs other than way they’re prescribed, take someone else’s prescription, or take them to just get high.
Methadone is a medication that’s long been used to treat opioid addiction in adults. It helps relieve the painful withdrawal symptoms and can block the euphoric effects of opioids like heroin, according to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It’s taken once a day in either a pill, liquid, or water form.
It’s safe and effective when taken as prescribed. In fact, methadone is one of a handful of medications that, in combination with behavioral therapy, are shown to reduce opioid use and overdose deaths. Still, methadone overdose is possible if an individual accidentally or intentionally takes more than recommended or normal amount, according to the NIH.
Morphine is another type of prescription opioid that’s used to treat pain. It can be isolated from the opium poppy plant or produced synthetically, according to PubChem, a chemical database run by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). When prescribed by doctors, it comes as a liquid, pill, or capsule, according to the NIH.
Today, 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing them, while between 8 and 12% develop an opioid use disorder, according to NIDA.
People who use morphine can overdose on it, too.
Like morphine and fentanyl, hydrocodone (brand name: Vicodin) is another prescription opioid used to treat pain. It can be prescribed in capsule or tablet form. It may also be misused and lead to overdoses.
Like alprazolam, diazepam is a type of benzodiazepine used to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures, according to MedlinePlus. It is also, as the site noted, used to control agitation caused by alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine is a type of CNS depressants, which NIDA reports is one of the three most misused prescription drugs in the United States. Police have begun monitoring prescriptions in an effort to crack down on abuse.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
- Read more:
- Most rehabs don’t offer a science-backed treatment for drug addiction. A new initiative aims to change that.
- 8 times celebrities have gotten brutally honest about the ups and downs of addiction and recovery
- Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam wars combined
- An artist painted a self-portrait of himself on a different drug every day, and he ended up with brain damage