The Ten Most Lethal Drugs in the U.S.

Cooking drug in spoon

There is no doubt that the United States struggles with a drug addiction crisis. In every state across the nation, more people are affected by drug abuse each year. Millions of Americans have become hooked on drugs, and their family members and loved ones are directly affected by this crisis. In short, tens of millions of Americans have felt the pain of the 21st-century addiction epidemic.

While there is never an excuse to use drugs, and while every potentially addictive drug presents harmful and dangerous consequences when used or misused, some drugs have the potential to be more destructive than others. It’s essential to get informed about these and to avoid them at all costs.

It is alarming is that seven out of ten of the most lethal drugs in America are legal drugs. Again, all the more reason to get informed. Americans have to know the truth about drugs, illegal street drugs and legal substances both.

Ten Dangerous Drugs Ranked by the CDC’s 2016 Fatality Statistics

A practical and fair method of comparing drugs would be to examine death statistics related to individual drug types. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the death certificates of all drug-related deaths in 2016 to determine which drug names were mentioned the most.

The following list includes the ten drugs most responsible for 2016’s drug-related death toll. Keep in mind that the actual numbers and percentages are likely much higher than those reported because specific drug names are not always written on death certificates.

  1. Fentanyl. A synthetic opioid ten times more powerful than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl claimed at least 18,335 lives in 2016. That’s almost one-third of all drug-related deaths that year. In 2011, fentanyl placed in tenth place among drugs involved in fatal overdoses. That means in just five years, fentanyl became the most lethal drug in America.
  2. Heroin. Involved in 15,961 overdose deaths in 2016, heroin ranked as the second most lethal drug in the United States. According to the data, heroin was a critical factor in at least one out of every four drug-related deaths in the U.S. that year. And that’s quite astounding since the 1990s and the early-2000s saw some of the lowest heroin abuse statistics in many years. Sadly, heroin has made a considerable resurgence in popularity, thanks in part to the increase in prescription drug abuse.
  3. Cocaine. Cocaine was involved in 11,316 deaths in 2016, the equivalent of 17.8 percent of all drug-related deaths that year. From 2011 to 2016, cocaine consistently ranked second or third among the nation’s top drugs for fatal overdoses.
  4. Methamphetamine. Meth was involved in a little more than ten percent of drug deaths in 2016. Furthermore, meth overdose deaths have been skyrocketing. From 2011 to 2016, such deaths more than tripled. Fast forward to the present day, and methamphetamine-related deaths are still increasing.
  5. Alprazolam. Also known as Xanax, alprazolam is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. However, the drug is also addictive and very easy to misuse. As a result, 6,209 people died from using alprazolam in 2016, 9.8 percent of total overdose deaths that year.
  6. Oxycodone. The drug that started the opiate epidemic in the early-2000s, oxycodone was still one of the most commonly abused (and one of the most lethal) drugs in 2016—about 9.7 percent of drug deaths in 2016 involved oxycodone. An estimated total of 6,199 people died in the U.S. from oxycodone overdoses that year.
  7. Morphine. The first pharmaceutical pain reliever, morphine, was involved in 5,014 deaths in 2016 (7.9 percent of all deaths).
  8. Methadone. A prescription drug used to treat pain and sometimes used to treat opioid dependence, methadone was involved in 5.5 percent of overdose deaths in 2016. Methadone claimed 3,493 lives that year, even though it is a drug that is supposed to help people with pain symptoms or opioid dependence.
  9. Hydrocodone. A generic prescription pain reliever, hydrocodone, was involved in five percent of overdose deaths in 2016. In that year, exactly 3,199 death certificates reported hydrocodone as being involved, but there may be more deaths from this drug where the drug was not mentioned in death certificates. Hydrocodone is the generic name for drugs such as Norco, Vicodin, and Lorcet.
  10. Diazepam. A benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal, Diazepam (Valium, Diastat, etc.) was involved in 2,022 overdose deaths in 2016. That figure accounted for 3.7 percent of deaths that year.

What’s quite shocking about the above data is that, except for heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, all of the above drugs are legal, accepted, supposedly safe, and beneficial substances. But clearly, these drugs are not safe. Why are the American people being told to take potentially harmful medications for physical or psychological struggles? Why are these drugs killing thousands of Americans each year when they are supposed to be helpful medicines?

Seeking help

The Importance of Seeking Help for Addiction

What the above data drives home is the fact that not only is drug addiction extremely lethal, but certain legal medicines can pose just as much risk as illegal street drugs. That’s why it is so crucial to get informed on drugs and to consider seeking alternative remedies for ailments when the medical solution offered is just another potentially addictive drug.

Addiction is a life or death crisis. It is a troubling, dwindling spiral that only gets worse if those affected by it do not get help. That’s why it’s up to the family members of addicts to help their loved ones seek treatment. If you know someone who is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, contact Narconon today. We’ll help you make sure that your loved one doesn’t just become another statistic.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.