11 Worst Drugs In The U.S. In 2021

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

Certain drugs can be considered to be worse than others based on a few factors — overdose possibility, long-term effects, and likelihood for addiction. The following drugs are considered to be the 11 worst drugs in the United States in 2021.

Worst Drugs In The US In 2021

The year 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, but one group of individuals that seemed to suffer particularly hard were those with an alcohol or drug addiction.

In fact, 2020 saw the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in the U.S. in a single year.

COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact on the state of America’s future, and 2020 has been called the deadliest year in American history.

To continue providing information and resources for people with addiction and their families, here are 11 of the worst drugs to watch for in 2021.

1. Fentanyl

This powerful opioid is known for its extreme potency and its highly addictive nature.

With a potency of up to 50 times that of heroin and up to 100 times that of morphine, fentanyl should be considered dangerous and risky to use, even once. In fact, a lethal dose is only 2-3 mg.

What makes fentanyl particularly dangerous is the growing popularity to cut other illicit drugs with it to save money and increase potency.

The person purchasing fentanyl is often not even aware of this fact when they make a purchase, increasing their risk of fatal overdose.

Read more about fentanyl abuse and addiction

2. Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances today, and, because of this and its easy accessibility, has the potential to cause great harm.

According to the CDC, around 95,000 people die in the U.S. every year from alcohol and it is currently a leading cause of preventable death.

The deadly effects of alcohol are not always obvious, as they tend to happen over time.

Overdose is possible in the form of alcohol poisoning, while long-term alcohol abuse can lead to severe kidney, liver, and brain damage.

Read more about alcohol abuse and addiction

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3. Nicotine

Nicotine is another long-term killer, but a very serious one, as it is considered the number one leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

In fact, cigarette smoking is the cause of one in every five deaths in the U.S. today.

While it is nearly impossible to overdose from nicotine, long-term use can lead to lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease — just to name a few.

Nicotine should also be considered especially dangerous because of the harm it can cause to others through secondhand smoke.

4. Heroin

Heroin is another synthetic opioid that is well-known for being easy to become addicted to and difficult to quit afterward.

The withdrawal symptoms alone are said to be so unpleasant that this keeps many who are addicted to heroin from ever becoming sober.

Heroin has always been dangerous but has become even more so in recent years as it is one of the drugs most commonly cut with fentanyl because of their identical appearance.

Unfortunately, someone who is not used to the potency of fentanyl may not realize how much they are taking.

Read more about heroin addiction and treatment options

5. Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant that currently results in about 16,000 deaths a year in the United States, a number that has been steadily on the rise.

Cocaine is another drug that is often combined with fentanyl, which may explain part of the increase.

Overdosing from cocaine can lead to a heart attack, stroke, seizures, lung collapse, or a coma. Cocaine can be deadly both by overdose and through long-term damage to the heart and other organs when used frequently.

Read more about cocaine abuse, addiction, and treatment options

6. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine (meth) continues to rise in popularity and, sadly, so do fatalities from its use. It is widely available, more affordable than many other illicit drugs, and especially popular in the homeless community.

Unfortunately, it is also commonly mixed with fentanyl.

Similar to cocaine, meth use results in around 16,000 deaths per year, and this amount is always growing.

Even when not fatal, meth use can cause extreme weight loss, skin infections, tooth decay, and other permanent damage to a person’s health and appearance.

Read more about treatment options for methamphetamine abuse and addiction

7. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety medication that includes Xanax and Valium.

They can be highly addictive and very hard to stop taking once a habit has formed. In fact, quitting one too abruptly can be dangerous and even fatal in itself.

Death from benzodiazepines is usually unintentional but these drugs can be used as a method for suicide as well.

This type of drug is considered most deadly when combined with opioids and alcohol, as they have been known to heighten each other’s effects.

Read more about benzodiazepine abuse and addiction

8. Oxycodone

Oxycodone is another type of semi-synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat severe pain but which has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Similarly, OxyContin is an extended-release version of oxycodone and Percocet is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen.

You may have heard that America is currently going through an opioid epidemic or crisis, and that is because of both prescription and non-prescription opioids.

Sadly, addictions to many drugs, like oxycodone, start as prescriptions before leading to addiction.

Read more about oxycodone addiction and treatment options

9. Hydrocodone

Another prescription opioid that is contributing to the current crisis is hydrocodone, which is most often sold as Vicodin — a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

Any time that acetaminophen is abused, there is a possibility that severe liver damage will occur.

Drugs like hydrocodone are very widely prescribed, and therefore widely abused across a variety of communities.

Currently, of all drug overdoses that occur in the U.S. each year, about 70% of them are related to opioid use.

Read more about hydrocodone abuse and addiction

10. Morphine

Morphine is considered a natural opioid that is often seen in hospitals for aiding in severe pain relief.

It is known to cause euphoria for those who take it and it is thus very addictive in nature, although in most cases a person’s first dose of morphine is legally administered.

It is hard to say exactly how many people died from morphine-related causes in 2020, or any year for that matter, because the CDC groups opioid deaths into a single category. It is clear, however, that opioid-related overdose deaths are on a rapid rise.

Read more about morphine abuse and addiction

11. Methadone

Methadone is a synthetic opioid. What is most interesting about methadone is that it is a drug that is used to treat addiction to other, more dangerous opioids but which is actually highly addictive in itself.

Anyone using methadone as an addiction treatment needs to be closely monitored as most overdoses are accidental.

However, because methadone typically results in less than 5,000 deaths per year, it is still considered a better option than continuing with an addiction to other opioids.

Read more about methadone addiction and treatment options

Finding Treatment For Substance Abuse In 2021

Are you or a loved one currently struggling with any of the substances on this list? It is never too early or too late to ask for help and get started back on the right track today.

To be find substance abuse treatment centers in your area, please give our helpline a call — we are always standing by to help.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

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