Most Common Drugs People Overdose On

If you are worried about overdosing on a drug or have a loved one that you are concerned might overdose, you are not alone. Drug overdose-related deaths have climbed across the U.S. in nearly every state due to the explosion of addiction to drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers. In 2014 alone, over 47,055 people died from overdose equaling around 125 Americans each day. If you or someone you know struggle with addiction it is important you reach out and seek professional help.

most commonly overdosed drugs

What is a Drug Overdose?

Drug overdoses can be intentional or accidental and happen when you take more than the dose recommended medically. You could be more sensitive than others to different medications which can lead them to be toxic to you even at lower doses, and even if the dose is within the range that is medically acceptable.

It’s extremely likely that if you take drugs in large amounts, your metabolism will be unable to detoxify quickly enough. This leads to unintended and undesirable side effects, including a drug overdose.

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Most Commonly Overdosed Drugs

Overdoses aren’t exclusive to street drugs. Patients often abuse legal medications in the United States. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs intended to heal and help us, when used in the wrong way, can be dangerous and addictive — even lethal. Still, this doesn’t count out illegal street drugs, as many people do abuse them with serious negative side effects.

Let’s take a detailed look at some of the drugs most commonly associated with overdose:


The worst drug crisis in U.S. history is the opioid/heroin epidemic. Heroin overdoses, as well as other opioids, are now killing over 27,000 people each year, which has resulted in serious calls for action. If you are struggling with heroin addiction, do not hesitate, reach out and seek the proper help needed to treat heroin addiction.

pain reliever overdose symptoms

Heroin Explained

Refined from morphine, heroin is a highly addictive illegal drug. Many heroin overdoses are by people who have been using it for a while. The tolerance levels of a heroin abuser rise, which requires them to take more of the drug in order to get the same high. In many cases, if they overdose, they might not even realize it, since overdose effects are similar to the drug’s regular effects.

This drug is ingestible by sniffing or snorting or can be smoked or injected. No matter which way you administer the drug, it quickly travels to your brain, which is what contributes to its high rate of addiction and health risks.

Symptoms of Heroin Overdose

If you or someone you love overdoses on heroin, the symptoms could include:

  • Problems breathing
  • A weak pulse
  • Discolored tongue
  • Constricted pupils to pinpoints
  • Lips and fingernails may turn blue
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Intestinal tract and stomach spasms

If you don’t seek medical help immediately for yourself or a loved one who overdosed on heroin, it could result in coma or death.

Prescription Pain Relievers

In 2012, around 79.9 percent or over 33,175 of the total 41,502 prescription pain reliever overdose deaths in the U.S. were unintentional. Around 13.2 percent (5,465) were intentional (suicide), .2 percent (80) were considered homicides and in 6.7 percent (2,782) the intent was unclear.

most common drugs overdosed on

Prescription Painkillers Explained

Among the strongest painkillers available, opioid drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and meperidine (Demerol) are the most popular. Doctors prescribe prescription painkillers to treat severe acute pain. Prescription painkillers are intended for temporary use, such as after you’ve had a surgery or injury.

Symptoms of Prescription Pain Reliever Overdose

Pain reliever overdose symptoms can include:

  • Constipation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intestinal tract or stomach spasms
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow breathing
  • No breathing
  • Lips and fingernails may turn blue

Taking too many prescription painkillers can make your symptoms more severe.


Between the years 2001 through 2014, there was a 42 percent rise in cocaine-related deaths.

cocaine overdose

Cocaine Explained

Cocaine is a stimulant that is smoked, snorted or injected. It is a very addictive street drug that typically results in people increasing their amounts of use as their tolerance levels increase. Made from the leaves of the South American coca plant, healthcare providers can use it for legitimate medical purposes, though it is still an illegal drug. Overdoses occur mostly when people inject this drug.

Cocaine looks like white, fine, crystal powder and since it is a street drug, many dealers often mix it with talcum powder, cornstarch, flour or other things to increase their profits. In some cases, they even mix it with stimulant amphetamine and other drugs.

Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose

Overdosing on cocaine can resemble a heart attack as your heart muscle is stimulated and doesn’t get enough blood. You may experience symptoms like:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Euphoria or a ‘high’ feeling
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

Higher doses can cause:

  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Muscle damage
  • Hyperactivity
  • Kidney damage
  • Elevated body temperatures
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sudden death

Some people have even lost touch with reality (psychosis) and experienced a serious change in their personality as well as showing signs of mental illnesses like schizophrenia, manic depression, and depression.


Meth Explained

Methamphetamine is a very addictive stimulant that chemically resembles amphetamine. It’s known on the streets as chalk, meth, crystal, and ice. It takes the form of an odorless, bitter-tasting, white crystalline powder.

most commonly overdosed drugs

You can smoke, snort, inject or take it orally by dissolving it in alcohol or water.

You can deliver its effects quickly to your brain by either injecting or smoking it. This leads to an intense, immediate feeling of euphoria. It is especially easy to misuse, since the pleasure feeling produced fades quickly, leading to a crash.

Symptoms of Meth Overdose

Meth overdoses can be sudden (acute) or long-term (chronic). A sudden overdose happens when you take the drug intentionally or by accident and it has life-threatening side effects. Long-term overdose occurs when you use the drug regularly.

If you take too much of the drug, you can experience serious side effects such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Agitation
  • Heart attack
  • Unresponsiveness or coma
  • Stopped or irregular heartbeat
  • Extremely high body temperature
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Possible kidney damage or failure
  • Stroke
  • Serious stomach pain

When you use meth long-term, it can result in psychological problems that include:

  • Extreme paranoia
  • Delusional behavior
  • Insomnia
  • Major mood swings

Other symptoms could include:

  • Rotted or missing teeth (meth mouth)
  • Serious weight loss
  • Repeated infections
  • Skin sores (boils or abscesses)

Methamphetamines stay active in your body much longer than other stimulants or cocaine. You might experience paranoid delusions that can last up to 15 hours.


According to an Albert Einstein College of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and Montefiore Health System study, the rate of overdose deaths has increased among the millions of people in the U.S. who use sedatives like Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. In 2013, almost 31 percent of the approximate 23,000 prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States were benzodiazepine overdoses.

pain reliever overdose symptoms

Sedatives Explained

There are a variety of drugs in the sedative family that all work by depressing your central nervous system. The most common are benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Other sedatives include glutethimide, chloral hydrate, meprobamate, and methaqualone. This type of drug has legitimate uses for anesthesia, pain relief, sleep problems, anxiety disorders or seizures. If you take sedatives recreationally or at higher doses than your physician prescribed to you, it can lead to addiction and dependence, or other dangerous side effects.

Symptoms of Sedative Overdose

Because doctors prescribe sedatives frequently, and it’s easy to purchase them on the street, overdose can happen just as easily. Some symptoms of sedative overdose include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary retention
  • Irregular heartbeat

It’s best that you stick to the prescribed amount from your doctor and don’t purchase sedatives off the streets.


Antidepressants Explained

Doctors may prescribe antidepressant drugs to treat clinical depression or keep it from recurring. Antidepressants are also used for treating various other conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In some cases, you could receive antidepressants if you are dealing with chronic (long-term) pain. These drugs increase the level of neurotransmitters (a group of chemicals) in your brain. Some of these neurotransmitters like noradrenaline and serotonin improve emotion and mood.

Symptoms of Antidepressant Overdose

If you overdose on antidepressants like desipramine, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline, you can experience symptoms including:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to urinate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Mental disturbances
  • Coma

Misusing these prescription drugs can lead to drug overdose and your symptoms will depend on which drug you took and how much you took.


Between the years 2005 and 2009, there was a 123 percent increase in the number of ER visits by people who took ecstasy, according to government data.

most common drugs overdosed on

Ecstasy Explained

This is an illegal synthetic drug that’s common name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) that is both a hallucinogen and nervous system stimulant. Often seen at nightclubs or parties, this mood enhancer goes under the aliases ‘eckies’, ‘E’ and ‘love drug’. You typically swallow it as a tablet, though it does come in powder form as well.

It works by initiating the ‘fight or flight’ response in your brain giving you a burst of energy. Ecstasy has hallucinogenic properties that can trigger hallucinations of both sight and sound, and distort your experience of reality. It also gives you a feeling of extreme relaxation, peace, and love since it elevates certain brain neurotransmitters and chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.

Symptoms of Ecstasy Overdose

If you take high doses of this drug, it can cause vomiting and seizures. Overdose symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • A sharp rise in blood pressure and body temperature
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting

MDMA can also cause death in various ways including:

  • Stroke
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Dehydration and hyperthermia (overheating)
  • Kidney failure
  • Dilutional hyponatremia (you ‘drown’ your brain by drinking extensive amounts of water)

You are at greater risk of harm taking this drug if you have certain disorders like heart disease, epilepsy, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or psychiatric or mood disorders.

Drug Combinations

When you combine different drugs like OTC drugs with prescription medications or street drugs or alcohol, there can be dangerous drug interactions. If you ignore warning labels on prescription medications or you don’t bother to read them, it can lead to trouble. A large number of unintentional or intentional drug overdoses involved the use of more than one drug, and this can make medical treatment challenging.

Heroin overdoses can happen when someone takes depressant drugs (benzodiazepines, Temaze, Xanax, alcohol) in combination with heroin. When you mix these depressants with drugs like oxycodone, heroin or morphine, you increase your risk of an overdose significantly. Many fatal drug overdoses have involved more than one drug. Combining any medication (prescribed or not) with alcohol can lead to unwanted and unpredictable consequences.

It is important that you take all drugs as directed, read the labels and do your research carefully so you know what other OTC medications, prescriptions, and illicit drugs can interact negatively with them. In some cases, drug interactions can just affect how your medication works in your body, but other combinations can result in serious dangerous side effects or even death.

OTC Drugs


Acetaminophen Explained

Acetaminophen is the generic name for a medication that provides pain relief and helps to reduce a fever. It is used to treat many conditions, including arthritis, muscle aches, and other pains. When taken correctly, it offers relief from many types of ailments. However, if users exceed the dosage, it can result in liver damage and even death.

most commonly overdosed drugs

You should limit your acetaminophen intake if you drink alcohol regularly. It’s best to take a lower dose with no more than 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day. There is 325 mg of acetaminophen in Regular-strength Tylenol and 500 mg in Extra-strength.

Over 200 medications contain acetaminophen including:

  • NyQuil
  • DayQuil
  • Sudafed
  • Anacin-3
  • Contact
  • Theraflu
  • Benadryl
  • Zicam

There are 325mg of acetaminophen in just one tablespoon of DayQuil and since your standard dose is two tablespoons, you are getting 650 mg in just one dose. Three of these doses in a 24-hour period can put you at risk for liver damage or failure, or even death.

There is 500 mg of acetaminophen in one tablespoon of NyQuil, which makes it even riskier because you are getting 1,000 mg in a single dose.

Many of these medications come in the form of a liquid, which becomes even more problematic. You might be tempted to simply take a gulp of a medication instead of measuring out your dose carefully, but this can increase your risk of liver damage significantly.

You never want to combine two products that both contain acetaminophen since it puts you at risk of liver failure very quickly. Be sure to read all the labels on any OTC medications and prescription medications to see what the ingredients are.

Symptoms of Acetaminophen Overdose

People often overdose on this common medication. Consuming alcohol with acetaminophen increases your risk of liver failure. It takes only 2,600 mg of acetaminophen in the course of a day to promote liver damage in people who also consume alcohol.

Even if this medication is used correctly, it remains the most commonly overdosed drug that is reported to poison centers. It can result in serious toxicity that leads to hepatic injury and can progress to fulminant hepatic failure (FHF) and in some cases, death.

If you have a severe acute liver injury, your symptoms could include fatigue, poor appetite, nausea and discomfort in your right upper quadrant, followed by jaundice and dark urine. You then start experiencing symptoms of hepatic failure such as:

  • Confusion
  • Mental clouding
  • Somnolence
  • Asterixis
  • Stupor
  • Coma

Other signs of liver failure include peripheral edema, ascites-related abdominal swelling, and coagulopathy. The onset of these symptoms can vary greatly.


Diphenhydramine Explained

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that is used in different sleep and allergy medications. You can overdose when you take more than the recommended dose of this medication. Whether you take it on purpose or by accident, in large amounts, diphenhydramine can be harmful.

pain reliever overdosed symptoms

This ingredient is found in various medications including:

  • Benadryl
  • Sominex
  • Nytol
  • Tylenol PM

Many other medications also contain this drug.

Symptoms of Diphenhydramine Overdose

You may experience symptoms of diphenhydramine overdose including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Dry eyes
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Agitation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Red, dry skin
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

These are just some symptoms of diphenhydramine overdose – there are more.


Did you know that one in every 10 teens abuses cough medication in order to get high?

most common drugs overdosed on

Dextromethorphan Explained

You can find this ingredient in over 100 OTC cold and cough medications like NyQuil and Robitussin. The main use of this drug is for the temporary relief of a cough that comes with minor bronchial and throat irritation.

However, it is often abused and is popular with teenagers due to large doses of it causing distortions of sound and color, euphoria and ‘out of body’ hallucinations.

Symptoms of Dextromethorphan Overdose

If you have overdosed on this drug, you may experience:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of muscle movement
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Shallow breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you combine Dextromethorphan with other drugs or alcohol, at large doses, it could even lead to death.

Other common overdosed OTC drugs include:

  • Caffeine medicines and energy drinks
  • Diet Pills
  • Laxatives and herbal diuretics
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Sexual performance medicines
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Herbal ecstasy
  • Other herbals

OTC drug overdoses are hard to prevent because few teens and adults know the hidden dangers. Unlike the obvious risks that come with illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, many people give little thought to any risks associated with OTC drugs.

Get Help for Addiction to Commonly Overdosed Drugs

It is not always easy to identify a drug emergency. If you or a loved one have overdosed, seek medical assistance immediately. Try to identify what the drug was your loved one took so he or she receives proper and prompt medical care.

A drug overdose is an extremely dangerous situation and a potentially lethal outcome of drug addiction. If you think you’re in danger of potentially overdosing, or if you are worried about a loved one, potentially overdosing, please don’t wait until it is too late. Contact us here at 12 Keys Florida

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