Drug and Alcohol - Trends and Statistics

The 5 Most Dangerous Drugs

The 5 Most Dangerous Drugs to Abuse

What are 2022’s deadliest drugs? The Edge Treatment Center provides proven addiction treatment for heroin, fentanyl, and more!

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Trends and Statistics

August 5, 2022

Not only can illicit drugs be harmful, but they can also be potentially fatal. Even household products (known as inhalants) can be abused for their effects.

It is important to understand the different drugs out there as well as their side effects and the best forms of treatment for overcoming an addiction to various drugs. Every drug affects individuals differently, so keep in mind that the recovery process looks different for everyone based on their own unique set of needs. 

We created a list of the top five most dangerous drugs to watch out for. These substances include: 

#1. Fentanyl 

Fentanyl is the current most dangerous drug in the United States. This is the case for several reasons. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) says fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is about 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is one of the largest culprits behind drug overdoses in the U.S. 

There are two different types of fentanyl, pharmaceutical and illicit. The pharmaceutical version is prescribed by doctors and used for patients in severe pain from surgery or injuries. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is the form usually linked to overdoses. Black market drug creators often lace other street drugs with fentanyl because it makes the drug cheaper and more addictive. Fentanyl can come in pills, powders, and even liquid forms.

Unfortunately, in most cases, people don't know when other drugs are laced with fentanyl, which makes illicit drug use extremely dangerous. 

Side Effects: 
  • Sudden and extreme happiness 

  • Feelings of drowsiness 

  • Nausea 

  • Digestive issues such as constipation 

  • Problems breathing 

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated? 

Fentanyl addiction is treated similarly to other opioids through different behavioral therapies and medications to help manage the addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Motivational interviewing is said to help a client obtain tools that help them maintain sobriety after fentanyl use.

One way to ensure individuals stay on top of their medications or therapy is by improving their overall life skills while in treatment. When a person no longer feels the need to use a dangerous drug like Fentanyl, they're that much safer from Fentanyl overdose and the other consequences of a dangerous drug overdose.

#2. Oxycodone 

Oxycodone is used in medical settings to treat moderate to severe pain. However, if taken outside of the prescribed guidelines, it can easily become a habit. Worse, snorting or injecting crushed Oxycodone pills makes it very easy to overdose on Oxycontin, which is why this prescription painkiller is one of the most dangerous drugs to abuse.

People are at an even higher risk if someone in their family has a substance use disorder (SUD). It is also important for individuals to disclose to their doctor if they have ever struggled with depression or any other mental health disorder, as this can put them at a higher risk of becoming addicted. 

Side Effects: 
  • Kidney and liver failure 

  • Heart problems 

  • Cognitive problems 

  • Impaired coordination 

  • Drowsiness 

  • Slurred speech 

How Is Oxycodone Addiction Treated? 

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT), is the best place to start treatment for addiction to oxycodone. This is beneficial because clients get help from a detox professional who administers different medications to combat the withdrawal symptoms of Oxycodone.

After withdrawal individuals should attend addiction treatment that includes different therapies, educational treatment for post-recovery stages, and skill building to ensure life-long recovery. 

#3. Heroin

Heroin has been one of the most dangerous drugs to abuse for decades. Its potency and addictive qualities have made heroin one of the worst drugs to get addicted to. NIDA states that heroin is an opioid similar to morphine and created from the poppy plant's seed. Heroin comes in a few different forms, such as white powder, brown powder, or a substance that looks similar to black tar. Heroin is usually either injected, snorted, sniffed, or smoked. 

Short-Term Effects:
  • Dry mouth 

  • Flushing of the skin 

  • A heavy feeling in the arms or legs 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting 

  • Severe itching 

  • Repeatedly losing consciousness

Long-Term Effects:
  • Insomnia 

  • Infection of the heart 

  • Constipation and stomach cramps 

  • Liver and kidney disease 

  • Issues with the lungs such as pneumonia 

  • Sexual dysfunction in men 

  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women 

How Is Heroin Addiction Treated? 

There are a few different treatments to overcome an addiction to heroin. For example, several different medications help the withdrawal process, such as buprenorphine and methadone. There is also naltrexone, which blocks the brain from the effects of opioids. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a helpful option, which works to change the drug use expectations of the client and manage stress and triggers. 

#4. Cocaine 

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. It can be used by medical professionals for certain forms of anesthesia. However, cocaine abuse is illegal ... and potentially lethal. According to NIDA, cocaine can be used in a few different ways, such as snorting, rubbing into the gums, or dissolving the powder form so that it can be injected into the bloodstream. Cocaine is also extremely addictive, especially if it's smoked as freebase cocaine or crack cocaine. Combined with the violence surrounding cocaine, this stimulant is one of the most dangerous drugs to use.

Side Effects: 
  • Sudden and extreme happiness 

  • Irritability 

  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch 

  • Extreme paranoia 

  • Constricted blood vessels

  • Nausea 

  • Raised body temperature 

How Is Cocaine Addiction Treated? 

Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved medications to help treat an addiction to cocaine, though there are different behavioral therapies available. For example, group therapy, motivational interviewing, and CBT can all be beneficial for a successful recovery process. 

#5. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a highly addictive substance that mainly affects the central nervous system. Meth is commonly snorted, smoked, or swallowed after dissolving the substance into water or alcohol. Like cocaine, there is often a great deal of violence associated with meth use, and meth's potency can cause serious mental imbalance when used. Meth truly is one of the most dangerous drugs.

Side Effects: 
  • Increased physical activity and energy 

  • Faster breathing 

  • Rapid heartbeat 

  • Increased body temperature 

How Is Methamphetamine Addiction Treated? 

Like cocaine addiction treatment, there are currently not any FDA-approved medications that can help treat meth addiction. There are, however, certain behavioral therapy techniques that have been shown to work such as motivational interviewing and CBT. 

More of the Most Dangerous Drugs You Need to Be Aware Of

Although the following drugs aren't in our top 5, they're still some of the most dangerous drugs to be involved with.


Like fentanyl and Oxycodone, carfentanil is a synthetic opioid painkiller. What makes it one of the most dangerous drugs to use is its sheer potency: carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than Fentanyl. 25 grams of carfentanil could potentially kill one million people.

See for yourself – here's how a lethal dose of carfentanil compares with a lethal dose of fentanyl:

Photo of a lethal dose of fentanyl with a lethal dose of carfentanil.

Carfentanil was developed in the 1970s for veterinary use as a sedative for large animals. On the street, carfentanil is often sold as "purp" or "purple heroin."


Unlike the other most dangerous drugs on this list, alcohol is legal and easy to obtain. The National Institutes of Health reports nearly 86 percent of Americans aged 18 and older drink alcohol at least once during their lifetimes. Alcohol might be the most dangerous drug of all: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report over 140,000 Americans die from excessive alcohol use in the US each year.

Xanax (Alprazolam)

Xanax (the brand name for alprazolam) is a prescription drug tranquilizer and part of the benzodiazepine (aka benzos) class of drugs. Prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia, long-term abuse of this most dangerous drug family can result in benzo addiction. Recreational Xanax abuse can cause an increased risk of dementia, psychosis, blackouts, and other forms of mental impairment. Combining other drugs with Xanax (such as alcohol) can also result in a benzo overdose.

This holds true for other benzos, including Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). Xanax addiction can be difficult to treat as well. Benzo withdrawal requires extensive medical monitoring during the detox period.

K2/Spice (Synthetic Cannabinoids)

One of the most dangerous drug classes, synthetic cannabinoids are synthetic drugs similar to those found in marijuana/cannabis, only far more intense. Often sold as "synthetic marijuana" or "fake weed," these drugs have wildly unpredictable effects. Worse, these drugs are often purchased legally as "glass cleaner" with a "not safe for human consumption" warning on the label as a legal fig leaf.

Ecstasy/Molly (MDMA)

This highly popular synthetic designer drug is often seen as safe, due to the way it alters a person's mood. It isn't. MDMA is often cut with other dangerous drugs (including fentanyl), making Ecstasy abuse particularly dangerous. Remember, there are no guidelines or safety requirements when making designer drugs, and taking them is literally gambling with your life.

Thanks to the effects MDMA has on body temperature, Ecstasy abuse can also be lethal. It's easy to develop heatstroke, hyperthermia, or dehydrate yourself on MDMA, especially in a high-temperature nightclub.

What Are the Worst Drugs to Abuse?

Realistically speaking, all of them. Most of the drugs in this blog are illegal (or at least considered controlled substances), but even legal and prescription substances can be very dangerous to abuse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks drug overdose deaths. Opioids like heroin and fentanyl are responsible for most of the fatal drug deaths each year; methamphetamine and cocaine also kill many people each year.

However, the most dangerous drug of all is legal and doesn't require a prescription.

Acetaminophen Is the Most Dangerous Drug

According to a study published in USA Today, acetaminophen is the deadliest drug in the US. Sold as Tylenol, acetaminophen can be extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol, in high doses, or mixed with other pain medications. While this blog isn't intended to discourage people from using Tylenol, it's worth pointing out that people always need to be safe when taking drugs, even over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol.

Alcohol Is the Second Most Dangerous Drug

Alcohol is also a lethal drug when abused. Alcohol poisoning kills many people each year. Also, drug deaths aren't restricted to overdoses. Deaths caused by drugs like alcohol, including falls, assaults, and accidents, are also considered drug deaths.

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Drug Addiction Is a Fatal Disease. Don’t Risk Overdose; Contact The Edge Treatment Center Today!

Every addictive substance has the potential to disrupt a person's life, even marijuana/cannabis. At The Edge Treatment Center, we provide many different treatment options for addictions to opioids like heroin and fentanyl. We also provide treatments for meth and cocaine abuse through medication-assisted therapy (MAT), behavioral therapies, and other evidence-based treatments.

Choosing to attend drug & alcohol addiction treatment can feel extremely isolating and nerve-wracking but remember that you are not alone. The journey of recovery is without a doubt difficult, especially withdrawal, but our clinical staff is here as a guide for you through this tough phase.

If you or a loved one struggles with SUD, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today!

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We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.