A drug is defined as any substance that can alter the way the mind or body works. Drug overdoses are in the United States have gotten completely out of hand, claiming responsibility for being the leading cause of death among Americans in recent society. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses reached an astounding record high of 93,000 deaths in 2020, with synthetic opioids accounting for more than 60% of the total deaths. It is imperative that our generation of youth educate themselves on the dangers of not only illegal drugs but over-the-counter (OTC) drugs as well.
When trying to discover which drugs are more dangerous than others, there are a number of important factors to identify including health risks, how addictive they are, and the different withdrawal symptoms individuals might experience. Here are ten drugs that are widely abused, oftentimes leading individuals down the dark path of addiction.
Fentanyl is the most dominant synthetic opioid on the market. This is an extremely dangerous drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and heroin. Fentanyl is used in the medical field to treat patients who undergo severe surgeries and those that are terminally ill. Fentanyl is illegal to own without a prescription and if an individual is caught with a significant amount, it can result in a lengthy prison sentence. This drug is oftentimes illegally produced in superlabs located in China, illegally shipped to Mexico where it is then smuggled into the United States by Mexican cartels.
Many people believe alcohol is not a drug due to the fact that alcohol is legally sold in the United States. This misconception can have devastating physical and mental side effects for individuals who consume alcohol on a regular basis. Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 85% of people above the age of 18 reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
Alcohol is considered a depressant, working in the Central Nervous System (CNS) to slow down vital brain and body functions. People who consume large amounts of alcohol put themselves at risk for developing an addiction called alcoholism. Alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is very common in the United States, the NSDUH reporting that nearly 15 million U.S. residents above the age of 12 suffer from AUD. Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, oftentimes leading to health complications or in some cases, death. Some key alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or Vomiting
- High blood pressure
Suffering from alcoholism can have a profound impact on an individual’s life. Addiction can quickly spiral out of control, negatively impacting family life, professional goals, personal relationships, and health.
Heroin is a highly addictive opiate manufactured and processed from poppy plants, originating in South America and Southeast Asia. Different are two main types of heroin found on the market these days. The first is “black tar” heroin which is a sticky, gummy, tar-like substance usually coming from Mexico. The second is called “china white”, which is a white or brownish powder coming from various regions of Asia. This drug has been flooding into the United States since the mid-1900”s and in more recent times has been known to be cut with Fentanyl, making it stronger and even more deadly. According to the CDC, 72% of drug overdoses in 2019 involved opioids.
The most common way individuals use heroin is by intravenously injecting the drug directly into the bloodstream. It can be mixed with water or vinegar to produce a solution used for injecting. Heroin can also be smoked and snorted, oftentimes mixed with other drugs such as cocaine to increase the “high” the user receives.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is extremely addictive, coming in the form of a white, crystalline powder that is usually smoked or injected. Methamphetamine is much stronger when compared to other amphetamines, allowing much more of the drug to go directly to the brain, producing an extreme euphoric sensation sought after by many individuals who use this substance. The CDC reports that between the years 2015-2018, over 15 million people were addicted to this drug, although I personally believe this number is much higher.
Methamphetamine is manufactured by criminal elements in Mexico, producing large quantities and illegally smuggling them over the border into the U.S. This substance can also easily be produced in the backyards of many Americans called the “shake and bake” method, using only some household chemicals and cold medicines such as pseudoephedrine to produce a couple of ounces at a time. Manufacturing meth is extremely dangerous, running the risk of fires and explosions due to the chemicals used in the process. The NIH reports there were over 15,000 methamphetamine laboratory incidents in 2015 although that number has recently dropped significantly due to congress passing the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, requiring pharmacies and other stores to keep track and limit the purchasing of pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients.
Cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that produces a euphoric feeling many users like. Due to cocaine being a stimulant, individuals who use this substance can feel talkative, alert, focused, happy, and go extended amounts of time without eating or sleeping. However, using this substance on a regular basis can have negative psychological effects and put users at risk for health complications which can consist of:
- Stroke and heart attack
- Mood swings
- Erectile dysfunction
- HIV (if used through injection)
- Increased heart rate
- Deviated septum
- Nose bleeds
Cocaine is derived from coca leaves, a plant most commonly found in South American countries such as Colombia and Peru. This substance is mainly snorted although it can be smoked or injected directly into the bloodstream. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), about 90% of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes from Colombia and is smuggled through Mexico. Cocaine is also known as blow, crack, snow, white girl, soft, and powder.
Alprazolam, the generic name for Xanax, belongs to the class of drugs called Benzodiazepines. Xanax is a highly addictive drug used to treat anxiety and is widely abused throughout the United States. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are becoming increasingly popular among addicts, especially the younger generation due to many pop stars referencing these drugs in their music.
According to Webmd, overdoses involving “benzos” are on the rise and found to be linked to the United States opioid crisis stating that 1 out of every 3 overdoses involving opioids also involves some form of benzos. Xanax is often mixed with other drugs such as cocaine, cough syrup (also known as lean), and heroin to produce a better high for users. Using any of these drugs alone already puts individuals at risk, mixing them together is a recipe for disaster.
Prescription cough syrup, also known as Lean, Purple Drank, Sizzurp, and Dirty Sprite has made way as one of America’s most popular drugs. Lean is a combination of the prescription cough syrup whose main ingredient is Codeine, a highly addictive opiate, mixed together with a soda or fruit juice. The prescription cough syrup usually comes as a purple or red liquid making it popular among addicts. This drug is promoted by rappers and hip hop artists such as Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, and Moneybag Yo who can be seen drinking this medication in their music videos.
Prescription cough syrup or “Lean” became popular in the late 1990s, many saying it originated in the Houston, Texas area then making its way through the United States. Due to the main ingredient being codeine, which is an opiate, many people who abuse this substance will experience opiate withdrawal symptoms which can include:
- Weight gain
- Poor memory
- Nausea and vomiting
Millions of people every year suffer from opiate withdrawal symptoms. Seeking medical attention is highly recommended if you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction to this drug.
Oxycodone is the main ingredient in prescription medications such as Oxycontin and Percocet, belonging to the class of drugs called opiates. These medications are often prescribed by medical professionals for moderate to severe pain relief and users can develop an addiction to these substances extremely quickly. Although the U.S. has been cracking down on doctors overprescribing this medication in their ongoing efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, oxycodone is still extremely popular among addicts and can be found in every corner of America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 150 million prescriptions for opiate medications were written in 2019 alone.
Nicotine which is found in tobacco holds the crown for being the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States. According to the CDC, 40 million adults in the United States still smoke cigarettes today. Although this number has gone down in recent years due to people using alternative ways of consuming nicotine such as vaping and E-cigarettes, using tobacco is still a huge problem in the U.S. and around the world. Almost 500,000 people die each year from smoking cigarettes, affecting many more by introducing individuals to secondhand smoke. Nicotine is an extremely addictive chemical, some even arguing that it is more addictive than Heroin. Some serious health risks associated with using tobacco are:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, is the most widely consumed over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication in the United States. Although this drug is legal, it can have devastating health risks when overly consumed. According to the FDA, Acetaminophen is one of the leading causes of acute liver failure and in some cases has resulted in death. Acetaminophen is commonly used to help control and reduce pain, fever, headaches, muscle aches, and sore throats. Consuming large quantities of this substance can result in the individual suffering from an overdose. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Poor appetite
- Stomach pain
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