America’s Substance Abuse Problem: The Cost of Addiction

It would be a gross understatement to say the U.S. has a significant substance abuse problem. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, an estimated 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. And many have died because of their inability to break free from their addiction. To further illustrate this point, since 2,000, the U.S. has claimed more than 700,000 overdose-related deaths. From an economic standpoint, America has also seen the cost of addiction surpass $600 billion yearly in terms of law enforcement, court, hospitalization, and addiction recovery costs. 

The Most Dangerous Drugs on America’s Streets and in America’s Pharmacies

Abusing drugs of any kind is harmful and perhaps even destructive, but some drugs are far worse than others in this regard.  That said, some of the most dangerous drugs, according to counselors, physicians, and addiction experts all across America, include the following:

Cocaine – Popular in the 1980s and still enjoying a great deal of popularity today, cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can trigger a wide range of health problems. And the onset of these health problems is so slow that most users won’t realize how much damage the drug is doing to their body until things get pretty far out of hand.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals who use and abuse cocaine are more likely to encounter the following health problems:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Emaciation
  • High blood pressure
  • Organ failure
  • Respiratory distress
  • Seizures

Even if an individual is fortunate enough to avoid these various health problems, using and abusing cocaine can put them at risk of suffering an overdose, potentially ending their life.  To further drive this point, we need only turn our attention back to the same CDC study, which attributed 20 percent of overdose-related deaths that occurred in 2019 to cocaine.  In light of the health problems and risk of death, it is not too difficult to see why this powerful stimulant ranks as one of the most dangerous drugs in this country.

Opioids – Whether we’re discussing the prescription or street-level variety, opioids are definitely among the most dangerous drugs one could ever put into their body. Of course, it helps to look at prescription-based and street-level opioids individually to understand why this is the case. On the prescription side of things, some of the most popular and widely prescribed opioid drugs include Fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and methadone. As far as street-level opioids, there is heroin, an opioid drug made from morphine. Collectively, street-level and pharmacy-based opioids played a role in nearly 50,000 overdose-related deaths in 2019. In addition to being highly addictive and putting people at risk of dying from an overdose, street-level and pharmacy-based opioids can trigger the following:

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression

Individuals who abuse heroin may also suffer from collapsed veins due to repeatedly injecting the drug into their arms or other parts of their body.

Most Dangerous Drugs

Antidepressants – When not taken as prescribed or outright abused, prescription-based drugs meant to improve your health can have the opposite effect. And antidepressants, especially selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are no exception. While they do a remarkable job in providing relief from depression, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and other SSRIs can trigger numerous side effects when individuals misuse or abuse them. Some of the more notable ones include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Nervousness, agitation, or restlessness
  • Sexual dysfunction

Along with these side effects, there is evidence that SSRIs and antidepressants in general, when abused or otherwise not taken as prescribed, can increase an individual’s chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke by as much as 14 percent.  For these reasons, SSRIs and antidepressants deserve a space on America’s coveted list of most dangerous drugs.

Alcohol – Although alcohol is legal and readily available at liquor stores throughout the country, it is still a drug. Further, it is a drug that can cause numerous health problems for those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and those who just don’t know when to say when. Multiple studies have found that excessive alcohol consumption contributes to the following:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Fetal damage inpregnant women
  • High blood pressure

Along with an increased risk of developing these various health problems, excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of physical injury due to car accidents, falling, and the like. Some people even experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit drinking, one of which is delirium tremens, a condition that causes uncontrollable shaking, confusion, and hallucinations. Delirium tremens, which can occur 2 to 5 days after an individual stops drinking, can also prove fatal if an individual does not receive prompt medical care. 

Cough medicine – Although generally safe, over-the-counter cough medicine can be dangerous when someone does not take it as recommended by the manufacturer or as prescribed by their doctor. The reason for this is most cough medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM), a powerful ingredient that, when consumed in high doses, can trigger the following:

  • Dissociation
  • Fatal respiratory depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Intoxication

Bottom Line

In summary, while the most dangerous drugs are on America’s streets, some of them can also be found at neighborhood pharmacies. That being said, it is best to avoid street-level drugs entirely as nothing good ever comes from taking them. It is also a good idea to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding a prescription or over-the-counter medication.