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Top 5 Drugs People Overdose On

Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of death among people under the age of 50.1

More than 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s provisional number for 2017 is more than 72,000, which is a nearly 7% increase from 2016 and a 3.1-fold increase from 2002.2

What Drug Causes the Most Deaths?

  • The top 5 drugs people overdose on are fentanyl, prescription pain relievers, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Per the CDC, the 5 most common drugs involved in overdose deaths are:

most common drugs involved in overdose deaths

  1. Fentanyl. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil led to 19,413 deaths in 2016. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is commonly substituted for or mixed with heroin without the user’s knowledge. Users who think they are taking heroin overdose because the drug is much stronger.2,3
  2. Prescription pain relievers. These drugs, which include medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet, led to 19,354 deaths in 2016. From 2002 to 2011 there was a 1.9-fold increase in the total number of deaths from these drugs. But the rate has remained relatively stable since then.2
  3. Heroin. Heroin overdoses led to 15,469 deaths in 2016. People who abuse prescription opioids often switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. One study found that nearly 80% of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.2,4
  4. Cocaine. Cocaine led to 10,375 deaths in 2016 (up from 6,784 in 2015). Many cocaine overdoses involve other drugs. For example, in 2016, 7,263 cocaine overdoses involved cocaine and an opioid. Fentanyl has been increasingly mixed with cocaine and contributed to the rise in cocaine-related overdoses.1,2
  5. Methamphetamine. There were 7,542 methamphetamine overdoses in 2016. Meth overdoses also tend to involve other drugs. In 2016, 3,416 meth overdoses involved any type of opioid and 1,042 involved a synthetic narcotic.2,5

Are you worried your drug or alcohol use has gotten out of control? Take our free and confidential addiction assessment.

Honorable Mentions

  • Benzodiazepines. In 2016, there were 10,684 benzodiazepine drug overdose deaths. It is unusual for people to die from a benzodiazepine overdose alone, and a large portion of these overdoses included other drugs. For example, that year there were 9,233 benzodiazepine overdoses that involved any type of opioid and 3,308 that involved a synthetic narcotic. From 2002 to 2016 there was a 8-fold increase in the total number of deaths from benzodiazepines.2
  • Antidepressants. Thousands of people overdose on antidepressants each year. In 2016, there were 4,812 overdose deaths from antidepressants. A total of 2,960 of these overdoses involved any type of opioid.2

Eastern states tend to have the highest drug ratesEastern States Tend to Have Highest Overdose Rates

A CDC analysis of 2016 overdose deaths found that overdose death rates are increasing, and they are often higher in states east of the Mississippi River.

  • The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) was 21% higher than the rate in 2015 (16.3).
  • Among people aged 15 and over, adults aged 25–34, 35–44, and 45–54 had the highest drug overdose death rates at around 35 per 100,000.
  • The states with the highest drug overdose death rates were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1), New Hampshire (39.0), the District of Columbia (38.8), and Pennsylvania (37.9).6

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs, consider seeking help. There are several different types of treatment programs that can accommodate different budgets and preferences. Treatment can help you or your loved one avoid the harm of addiction and get back to living the life you love.


[1]. Katz, J. (2017). Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever. The New York Times.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Overdose Death Rates.

[3]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Fentanyl.

[4]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use.

[5]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Methamphetamine.

[6]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2016.