10 Worst Drugs in America

Drug addiction is a serious problem in this country, with an estimated 23.5 million people addicted to drugs and alcohol. It is no surprise that the rate of addiction is rising, since there are more addictive substances available than ever before. Addiction is a devastating condition no matter what the cause or which substances are involved. From a public health and safety standpoint, though, it is important to share information about which drugs are the worst. Here is a guide to the 10 drugs that are causing the most problems in America today.

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Developed in 1898 by a German pharmaceutical company, heroin was originally marketed as a cure for tuberculosis. It was also used as a means of weaning addicts off of morphine. Once believed to be non-addictive, heroin turned out to be even more addictive than morphine, and the cycle began.

Heroin was again popular during the 1960s drug craze when the drug sub-culture in this country went mainstream. Fueled by the anti-Vietnam War movement, heroin use among young people increased dramatically, ultimately prompting President Nixon to declare a war on drugs.

heroin overdose deaths

The resurgence of heroin use in recent years may be attributed to a sharp increase in prescription pain relievers. Made from opium, heroin gives the same high as opioid pain pills at a fraction of the price. Here are some alarming statistics about heroin use today:

Cities in New Jersey, Virginia, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, and many other states are experiencing a heroin epidemic. Public officials are scrambling to figure out how to slow this trend.


Alcohol is the most socially acceptable drug in America and has enjoyed that distinction for decades. In fact, when most people talk about drug abuse and addiction, they find it necessary to say drug and alcohol addiction, as if alcohol is not really considered a drug.

Perhaps it is this naivety about the dangers of alcohol that make it one of the worst drugs in America. It is one of the few drugs that many people feel comfortable abusing out in the open. Obviously, they do not think they are hurting themselves or others. Alcohol is legal and available for purchase in most communities, another fact giving it the air of safety.

Recent studies have revealed that alcohol is, in fact, one of the most addictive drugs available. In a comparison study, alcohol rated higher than heroin and cocaine for the severity of withdrawal symptoms and intoxication. Alcohol is also the most widely used drug in our society and the one most likely to be combined with other intoxicating substances.

alcohol related deaths

These statistics show some of the dangers of alcohol abuse:

  • Alcohol is related to the cause of death for 100,000 people each year.
  • In 2005 alone, 5 million Americans were treated for alcohol abuse.
  • There is one alcohol-related traffic fatality every 51 minutes in the U.S.
  • Roughly 64% of people treated for addictions are treated for alcohol addiction.
  • Alcohol use kills more teenagers than all other drugs combined.
  • Long-term alcohol use, even in small quantities, can cause brain damage.
  • Every year, approximately 88,000 Americans die as a result of alcohol abuse.
  • Approximately 3 million people who are incarcerated in the U.S. broke the law while under the influence of alcohol.

The statistics show that alcohol kills. It ruins lives and shatters families. Alcohol also contributes to chronic health problems. The effects of alcohol abuse on the body include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cirrhosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Hepatitis
  • Stroke
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Weakened immune system
  • Several types of cancer

Alcohol may be socially acceptable, but it is in fact deadly.


Short for methamphetamine, meth is a synthetic stimulant produced and sold illegally. The ingredients for making meth are found in over-the-counter cold remedies. These chemicals are extracted and mixed with a variety of household chemicals like drain cleaner or anti-freeze to increase the kick.

Meth is dangerous to use, and it is also dangerous to make. It doesn’t require special equipment or a large amount of space, so meth production often takes place in residential neighborhoods. It is not uncommon to hear of meth lab explosions close to home.

meth emergency room visits

Meth production is not centered in one area of the country. Instead, it is a pervasive problem across the U.S. Abuse of this dangerous and illegal drug is just as widespread. Here are the alarming statistics on meth use in America:

Some believe that meth is popular partly because it produces a high that can last up to 24 hours, unlike other drugs of abuse. As a psycho-stimulant, meth floods the brain with feel-good chemicals to produce a euphoric feeling. The side effects of meth, however, can be severe. Meth is also highly addictive. It is possible to become addicted to meth with just one use.


Like heroin, cocaine is a popular drug from another era experiencing a resurgence in recent years. Cocaine was the drug of choice for movie stars and others living the fast life in the 1980s. The expense of a serious cocaine habit gave it an exclusive allure as a kind of status symbol. No doubt, cocaine would be at the center of some of those “where are they now” stories.

Cocaine is made from the coca plant indigenous to South America. Cocaine was widely promoted in the late 1800s to cure erectile dysfunction and depression by such renowned psychologists as Sigmund Freud. Its addictive properties were not discovered or acknowledged until after cocaine became a popular food additive. Cocaine was banned in the U.S. in 1922 after reported high death rates among users in the previous decade.

Cocaine use in the U.S. dropped off in the 1990s, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years. It is a highly addictive and dangerous drug. Cocaine produces a strong psychological dependence, second only to that of meth. The side effects of this potent stimulant also present a grave health risk.

cocaine emergency room visits

These statistics about cocaine in the U.S. illustrate the dangers:

Bath Salts

Bath salts made headlines a few years ago because of the crazy, scary antics performed by their users. It is hard to forget the news stories of naked people breaking into police stations or carrying out horrible and senseless acts of violence. In the follow-up stories, Americans learned how easy it was to buy these dangerous substances and to be fooled into thinking they were safe and purchased legally.

Those extreme news stories are actually logical when you know how bath salts work. They increase body temperature dramatically in a short time, which explains the nakedness. And they produce such a sense of paranoia that under their influence, people are driven to destroy themselves or others to end the anxiety.

bath salts addiction

Bath salts even have a bad reputation among hardcore drug users. A survey of internet sites where people discuss their recreational use of various substances reveals general negativity toward bath salts. Most anecdotal accounts express little pleasure and a whole lot of discomfort associated with them.

Bath salts are highly addictive and potentially lethal. They can cause severe intoxication and dangerous health effects such as brain damage. Bath salts can also cause psychosis and violence. They were partially banned in the U.S. in 2011. One of the greatest dangers of bath salts is that they can turn up in other drugs and be taken without knowing it. Bath salts have been sold as MDMA or ecstasy to unsuspecting users.


Like many dangerous drugs, PCP was developed by a pharmaceutical company to help patients. PCP was meant for use as an anesthetic but was discontinued due to severe side effects which included delirium, hallucinations and mania. Veterinarians later adopted PCP for use as an animal tranquilizer.

In the 1960s, PCP gained popularity as a street drug in the hippie movement. Its psychedelic properties became the subject of anecdotes, songs, and poems. It was banned in the U.S. in 1978 but has experienced a resurgence of popularity in recent years.

Street names for PCP include:

  • Angel Dust
  • PeaCe Pill
  • Supergrass
  • Rocket Fuel
  • Hog
  • Lovely
  • Wack
  • Dust
  • Embalming Fluid

PCP is considered a hallucinogenic drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the brain, it blocks neurotransmitter reception at certain sites where dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin work. The effects of PCP brain chemistry interference include erroneous sight and sound cues, induced sleep, memory loss and a feeling of detachment.

pcp drug abuse

Approximately 6.1 million Americans have used PCP at least once in their lifetimes. The largest PCP-using demographic is high-school-aged people and young adults. From 2005 to 2011, emergency room visits due to PCP increased by 400%. Statistics from 2001 show that the majority of PCP users who end up in the hospital are males between the ages of 24 and 35.


LSD seems like just another drug from the 1960s drug movement in America. Most people have heard of LSD from songs or stories of that time. Bands like The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane and the Moody Blues glamorized the hallucinogenic effects of LSD, but like those bands, the popularity of the drug faded in the late 1970s.

There was a brief resurgence of LSD use in the U.S. in the 1990s, and more recently, LSD has become popular again. Whether it is because of new curiosity in hallucinogenic drugs or a drop in price, LSD use in the U.S. is surging again.

LSD is an abbreviation for lysergic acid diethylamide, a strong hallucinogenic drug first produced in 1938 in Switzerland. It was supposed to be a blood stimulant but was not marketed for that purpose once its strong hallucinogenic properties were discovered. It was instead distributed for use in psychiatric experiments and from there ended up on the street.

lsd effects

Although it is a hallucinogenic drug, the effects of LSD are highly unpredictable. The side effects can include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Delusions
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression

In 2015, almost 3% of all high school seniors reported using LSD in the past year. Approximately 4.3% of high school seniors had tried LSD at least once. Among Americans 26 years old and older, 10.9% have tried LSD at some point in their lifetimes.


There is a prescription drug addiction epidemic in this country, and opiates are at the heart of it. There are several new pharmaceuticals on the market, and they are making new drug addicts in unexpected segments of our population.

A class of drugs derived from opium, opiates, and opioids might be the fastest-growing class of drugs tracked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Opioids are synthetic equivalents to opiates, and they are mostly used for pain relief.

Opiates are highly addictive, though, and can pose problems for unsuspecting users. Opiate pain relievers are prescribed for serious pain from things like sports injuries or surgery. They can be very addictive, though, even when taken as directed. They are often prescribed on an as-needed basis, and patients end up having more pills on hand than they need.

Extra pain pills are often used to self-medicate or saved for future use. They are pilfered from the family medicine cabinet by curious teens or shared with friends who might have already developed an addiction. Access is a key factor in drug abuse, and opiates are easier than ever to access in the U.S.

american opiate use

Americans consume almost 80% of the world’s opiate supply, although we only make up 4.6% of the world’s population. In 2012, an estimated 2.1 million Americans suffered opioid addictions related to prescription pain relievers. The overdose rate in the U.S. from prescription pain relievers has quadrupled since 1999.

Almost 207 million prescriptions for opiate pain relievers were written in 2013. That was up from 76 million in 1991. In addition, 2014 was a peak year for drug overdose deaths in the U.S., and opiate abuse led the way. In that year, approximately 61% of all overdose deaths involved opioids, a 14% increase from 2013. There has been a 200% increase in overdose deaths from opioids since 2000.


This is a fairly new drug on the scene that attracts marijuana smokers in particular. It looks like marijuana, a bunch of crushed dried leaves packed in a small baggie. K2-Spice is sprayed with a synthetic drug that mimics the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

synthesized drugs

Any time you’re dealing with synthetics and street drugs, you have a recipe for disaster. Drugs that are made up of or synthesized from chemicals or various other compounds are often unpredictable. When they are produced on the street, there is no way of knowing exactly what goes into them. There is no ingredient label or FDA dosing guidelines.

Although street drugs are generally made from a basic recipe, that recipe has not been vetted for human consumption by the FDA. The person producing the drugs cannot be trusted to stick to the same recipe, either. When they run out of certain ingredients or find a cheaper way, they’re going to alter the recipe. Even if they have the best intentions, there are no controls on this system.

The effects of K2-Spice kick in within one to three minutes of smoking the substance and can last up to eight hours. During that time, the user may experience:

  • Delusions
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Paranoia
  • Sweating
  • Spasms
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to speak

The long term effects of K2-Spice are not known. It is too new for doctors to know what to expect with this drug. There have yet to be any long-term case studies

K2-Spice is sold legally as incense, not meant for human consumption. Part of the danger here is that there may be no legal recourse to restrict the purchase or possession of this product. People using K2-Spice thinking it is just like marijuana can experience overdose. There have been several news stories about the dangerous behaviors of people under the influence of K2-Spice, like this one in the Wall Street Journal.


A powerful anesthetic usually used on dogs, ketamine has found its way into the street drug scene. It was originally developed in 1962 from a PCP derivative. Ketamine has milder side effects than PCP and doesn’t last as long, making it safe for use on humans. Medically, ketamine is sometimes used for children or minor surgeries, but its primary use today is on dogs.

ketamine leaves you helpless

Ketamine is a powder that mixes easily into a beverage without leaving a detectable taste or odor. It is sometimes referred to as a date rape drug. With a high dose, the subject would fall asleep and wake up not remembering anything that happened. A smaller dose would render the subject unable to move or speak, a very vulnerable condition.

The dangers of ketamine go beyond side effects and possible overdoses. Ketamine can leave you helpless against assault and is difficult to detect. With ketamine on the street, an unsuspecting person can be dosed without their consent.

Learn More

These top the list of worst drugs in America. To learn more about the devastating effects of these and other drugs, contact 12 Keys. We are experts in addiction recovery and have seen every sort of addiction there is. Let us educate you on some of the dangers you may not be aware of.

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