Some of the Top 5 Deadliest Drugs in America Are Actually LEGAL

Recently President Obama unveiled a package of new initiatives aimed at reducing the prescription drug and heroin abuse epidemic affecting the nation. According to CNN, in America the death toll of overdose deaths from opioids (heroin as well as prescription drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone) rose 14% from 2013 to 2014. Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2014 opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) killed more than 28,000 people in 2014. Astoundingly, at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. So it is in the presence of these staggering statistics that the Obama administration is turning its attention and remaining political capital to taking a strong stance and action, especially against one of the top deadliest drugs in America – namely prescription painkillers. A revealing 2015 Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 3 of the top 5 deadliest drugs in America are actually legally sold to consumers.

Read on for a deeper view at the top 5 deadliest drugs in America:


According to a study on smoking and tobacco use conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year. In addition, the CDC ascertains that cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following:

  • More than 480,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke)
  • 278,544 deaths annually among men (including deaths from secondhand smoke)
  • 201,773 deaths annually among women (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

No matter how you look at this dark picture the statistics are astounding – especially when considering tobacco’s staggering death toll. Many wonder that if tobacco is the number one deadliest drug in America why won’t lawmakers and the federal government formulate policy that prohibits its use and sale across the country. The fact of the matter is that the tobacco industry constitutes a multibillion dollar industry. Reportedly, the 2012 Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report states that cigarette companies spent approximately $9.17 billion on cigarette advertising and promotion in 2012, up from $8.37 billion in 2011. Additionally, in 2015 the annual lobbying on tobacco amounted to $20,248,808 based on numbers reported by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In spite of the magnitude and wealth generated by the tobacco industry and its ubiquitous advertising presence, fewer Americans are reportedly smoking. In 2013, an estimated 55.8 million Americans aged 12 or older, or 21.3 percent of the population, were current cigarette smokers. This shows a downward trend from 2002, when the rate was 26 percent, says the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health (NSDUH).


The National Vital Statistics Report for mortality rate due to alcohol abuse cites the following statistics:

  • In 2013, a total of 29,001 persons died of alcohol induced causes in the United States. This category includes deaths from dependent and non-dependent use of alcohol, as well as deaths from accidental poisoning of alcohol.
  • Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death. It accounted for approximately 88,000 deaths per year from 2006–2010, and accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years.
  • In California the number of deaths attributable to alcohol-induced mortality amounted to 4,560.

But, the havoc wrought by cigarettes is not limited simply to death tolls. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that the alcohol also impacts the sustainability of families as well as the economy of the nation. The cost of excessive alcohol use in the United States reached $249 billion in 2010, or about $2.05 per drink. Meanwhile, during the same year the beer, wine and liquor lobby spent $24,899,124. Again as in the case of tobacco, alcohol represents a multibillion dollar industry. However, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States says that the beverage alcohol industry generates $400 billion in total economic activity in 2010, and nearly $90 billion in wages and over 3.9 million jobs for U.S. workers.

The picture painted is not entirely dark, though. The National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health (NSDUH) states that drinking by underage persons (ages 12 to 20) has declined. Current alcohol use by this age group declined from 28.8 to 22.7 percent between 2002 and 2013, while binge drinking also declined from 19.3 to 14.2 percent and the rate of heavy drinking went from 6.2 to 3.7 percent.

Prescription Painkillers

Contrary to popular belief, most of the drugs used now are not what people call ‘street drugs’. In fact, most of the drugs that fall under the category of prescription painkillers are procured from neighborhood pharmacies. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drugs actually kill more people than cocaine and heroin combined. Two of the deadliest prescription painkillers in America have reached epic proportions when it comes to their adoption and use. The U.S. consumes 99% of the world’s hydrocodone and over 80% of the world’s oxycodone. As for the pharmaceuticals/health products industry, the annual dollar amount spent on lobbying for the year 2015 was $238,086,761.

Based on numbers released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotion and more than $24 billion on marketing to physicians. As for their advertising budget to consumers, the pharma industry spends an additional $3 billion. With regards to its impact to the U.S. economy, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) as of 2012 more than 810,000 people work in the biopharmaceutical industry in the U.S., and number of jobs generated amount to nearly 3.4 million jobs,


The following statistic may surprise you. It might even make you rethink the seriousness of the cocaine epidemic across the United States: Today, 2,500 Americans will try cocaine for the first time. Furthermore, cocaine causes 3 times more deaths than any other illegal drug. The Center for Disease Control points out the fact that prescription drug abuse has recently passed cocaine abuse as the leading cause of all drug related deaths. However, what is most alarming is the percentage reported by the National Youth Risk Behavior of public and private schools students from 9th through 12th grade throughout the U.S. As of 2013, 5.5% of these students have used cocaine, including powder, rock cocaine, or freebase one or more times during their life. Consuming cocaine at such an early age does not bode well for the public safety, the health of teenagers, or for the overall country.

Also, a study conducted by the RAND Corporation states that from 2006 to 2010 the amount of cocaine consumed in the United States declined by about 50%. As for the number of chronic cocaine users in 2010, the number amounted to 2.5 million people (down from 3.3 million in 2000).       Overall, the RAND report shows that Americans are spending a staggering $100 billion a year on drugs such as cocaine, meth, heroin, and marijuana.

As for the lethality of cocaine, a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out at the fact that the number of overdose deaths from cocaine in 2014 rose to 5,415 deaths, reportedly an increase of 42% compared to the year before.


Meanwhile, as of 2010 the number of chronic heroin users reached the 1.5 million mark, up from only 1.4 million in 2000 says the RAND report. And, when it comes to drug poisoning involving heroin, the number of deaths has dramatically increased to 8,260 in 2013 from 1,843 at the turn of the century. Additionally, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health reported that the number of persons aged 12 or older who were heroin users in 2013 (681,000) was higher than the numbers in most years from 2002 to 2008. Overall, the statistics show an alarming upward trend in the number of tragic deaths as a result of heroin overdose. In fact, CNN reports that heroin deaths were up for third year in a row.

Meanwhile, a study by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that heroin use increases among an older, suburban, and rural white segment of the population. This trend is driven mainly by previous abuse of prescription painkillers prescribed by doctors. Similarly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that almost half of young people using heroin began by using prescription opioids. A New York Times article weighs in the fact that in many parts of the United States, heroin is actually much cheaper than prescription opiates. According to CNN, street heroin can be up to one-tenth the price of prescription opiates.

Although the statistics and facts paint a complex and dark picture, the ongoing efforts of the current administration seems to acknowledge the fact that the so-called war on drugs has not brought about the expected results. A policy shift that focuses on treatment rather than punishment may prove to be the most viable strategy going into the future.

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Office of National Drug Control Policy. 2015 National Drug Control Strategy. Retrieved April 6, 2016.

Vox. The Three Deadliest Drugs in America Are All Totally Legal. Retrieved April 4, 2016.

CNN. Obama Announces New Moves to Fight Opioid and Heroin Abuse Epidemic. Retrieved April 5, 2016.

National Health Interview Survey 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2016.

The Pew Charitable Trusts. Persuading the Prescribers: Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing and its Influence on Physicians and Patients. Retrieved April 5, 2016.

Office of National Drug Control Policy. Cocaine Facts & Figures. Retrieved April 5, 2016.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription Opioids Among Medical Enrollees. Washington 2004-2007. Retrieved April 5, 2016.

The Top 5 Deadliest Drugs in America