Most Dangerous Prescription Drugs

By
Chavi Weinstock
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
June 1, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. Can Dangerous Prescription Drugs Be Lethal?
  2. What Are The Most Dangerous Medications?
  3. Fentanyl
  4. Hydrocodone
  5. Morphine
  6. Oxycodone
  7. Methamphetamines
  8. Alprazolam (Xanax)
  9. Diazepam (Valium)
  10. Ketamine
  11. Codeine
  12. Amphetamines (like Adderall)
  13. Meperidine (Demerol)
  14. Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  15. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  16. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  17. Antidepressants
  18. Drugs Are Never Safe For You 

People often naively believe that any medication that a doctor prescribes is safe and cannot harm you. But, the reality is that there are many dangerous prescription drugs that people overdose from when taken in large amounts or mixed with other substances. Our medical prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death (after heart disease and cancer) in the US and Europe. In 2020, an average of 44 people died each day [1] from overdoses related to prescription opioids in the US, which is more than 16,000 in 2020 alone! There were an estimated 80,816 drug overdose deaths [2] involving opioids in the United States in 2021.

Opioid drugs include heroin, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and other prescription and non-prescription pain relievers. Although opioids may be the leading drug causing drug overdoses, many other drugs that are sold in pharmacies and prescribed by doctors may be as dangerous as the ones you purchase on the street, causing thousands of preventable tragedies every year. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the common, most dangerous prescription meds and watch out for your loved ones taking more than the recommended amount or mixing the medication with other drugs.

The staff at Avenues Recovery have years of combined experience working with addicts. We’ve compiled the following list of the top 15 most dangerous drugs.

What Are The Most Dangerous Medications?

The worst prescription drugs listed below are the ones that are known to have caused deaths due to overdose. Many of them are well-known medications that are generally safe when following medical recommendations.

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1.       Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid known to be so potent that it is 100 times stronger than morphine. It causes feelings of euphoria, releasing dopamine (the hormone that makes us feel pleasure or reward) from the brain. In the underworld, fentanyl is often added to other substances without the buyer’s knowledge, in order to increase the potency and pleasurable effects of other drugs. The most common example of this is fentanyl in weed. Other side effects include drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, slowed breathing, vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation, and more. It also causes many deaths from overdose every year.

2.       Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is a prescribed opioid medicine for chronic pain. Because people suffering from chronic pain need to take this medication regularly, they can easily develop tolerance to this drug, necessitating more and more for it to effectively remove the pain. This becomes an addiction, which can quickly lead to an overdose. Some of the negative side effects from increased dosages include slowed heart rate, increased risk of liver and kidney disease, impaired motor function and more. After just a few minutes of overdosing on Hydrocodone, breathing can stop completely.

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3.       Morphine

Morphine is classified as an opioid analgesic and is used to treat extreme pain. When used recreationally, it can cause a relaxed and calm feeling but also a false sense of well-being. If used in high doses regularly, it can alter the brain cells, and cause anxiety, depression, drowsiness, weight loss, constipation, memory problems, and many other damaging effects.

4.       Oxycodone

Oxycodone is a prescribed painkiller for extreme pain or terminal conditions. One can become dependent on this drug for pain relief, which leads to addiction. Around 25% of people with chronic pain are prescribed Oxycodone, and 5-10% of those also suffer from addiction to the drug. When combined with other substances like alcohol, heroin, or cocaine, it can cause permanent changes in the brain, or overdose and death.

5.       Methamphetamines

Methamphetamines are synthetic stimulants that speed up the central nervous system and are very addictive. It releases dopamine in the brain, making a person feel happy, euphoric, and content. Misuse of meth can cause harmful side effects like cardiovascular dysfunction, psychosis, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and other permanent psychological damage. It has also proven to cause many deaths due to overdose.

6.        Alprazolam (Xanax)

Alprazolam is a very potent benzodiazepine that suppresses brain activity and acts as a depressant to the central nervous system. It is prescribed to treat insomnia and generalized anxiety disorders (GADs). Long-term use of this drug increases the risk of developing dementia and other neurological disorders. It can also cause respiratory depression, like breathing and heart rate, increasing the risk of death. It is especially dangerous when mixed with other depressants or sedatives like alcohol, barbiturates, or opioids.

7.       Diazepam (Valium)

Diazepam is a benzodiazepine prescribed to treat muscle spasms, seizures, and anxiety as it is a depressant and can help to calm an overexcited central nervous system. Prolonged misuse of this widely-available drug can result in hallucinations, anxiety, sleeping disorders, and an increased risk of developing dementia. It slows down brain activity and can cause addiction. It is especially harmful when combined with other drugs, often resulting in overdose. Most overdoses do not occur from Diazepam alone but from the drug being mixed with others.

8.       Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative drug used as an anesthetic in the medical field for its hallucinogenic effects, which make a person feel detached from their body and unable to feel pain. It is also sometimes used to treat depression in antidepressant medications because it improves mood very quickly. If used recreationally, Ketamine can be dangerous, causing long-term side effects such as high blood pressure, impaired memory, impaired motor function, and fatal breathing issues. The risk of overdose increases when Ketamine is used with other Opiate or Amphetamine drugs.

9.       Codeine

This drug is present in pain-relieving medicines such as Robitussin A-C, Tuzistra XR, Triacin-C, and others medicines. Codeine is classed as an opioid drug which means that it contains morphine-like properties. People overdose on Codeine when they take more than the recommended amount of pain-relieving medication, usually because they desperately want to get rid of their pain. Some of the adverse side effects of prolonged codeine misuse include difficulty breathing, pale or blue lips, fingernails or skin, drowsiness, and lightheadedness.

10.   Amphetamines (like Adderall)

Amphetamines is the group name for amphetamine derivatives like dextroamphetamine, levoamphetamine, and methamphetamine, which are all classified as stimulants. This ingredient is present in Adderall, some ADHD, narcolepsy, and Parkinson’s medications. The effects of consuming amphetamines recreationally include increased body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse rates, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Prolonged misuse can cause serious mental health issues resembling schizophrenia, like paranoia, violent and erratic behavior, and hallucinations.

11.   Meperidine (Demerol)

Meperidine is used in medication to treat severe pain (similar to morphine) and is classified as a narcotic analgesic (a pain medicine). People with chronic pain are advised against taking this drug, as prolonged use can lead to tolerance and dependence. When this drug is mixed with alcohol, other opioids, or stimulant drugs, it can cause serious adverse effects such as respiratory depression, hypotension, sedation, and coma. Symptoms of overdose from meperidine include low blood pressure, weak pulse, shallow breathing, seizures, coma and other symptoms.

12.   Clonazepam (Klonopin)

This drug is classified as a benzodiazepine and is used to treat seizures and panic disorders. Clonazepam is widely abused because of the pleasurable effects felt after consuming a recreational dose, such as euphoria, sedation, and a relaxed feeling. Usually, overdosing on clonazepam itself is rarely fatal. The problem begins when people mix this drug with other drugs and/ or alcohol, resulting in a mixture that can cause irreversible harm. Specifically, taking clonazepam with other opioid medication can cause respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, and death.

13.  Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Methylphenidate, or Ritalin (as it’s widely known), is a CNS stimulant used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Because it is so effective, people may increase the dose to enjoy increased levels of energy, alertness, and cognitive performance. Although overdose death can occur from Ritalin itself, its potency for overdose increases when mixed with other opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines. Methylphenidate overdose symptoms may include hallucinations, confusion, restlessness or agitation, aggression, weakness, high fever, muscle twitches and muscle pain, and other symptoms.

14.   Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

This drug is widely found in households as it is a common ingredient in painkillers and is used to treat pain and lower fever. It is active in Tylenol, Actifed, Contac, Fioricet, Midrin, Norco, Sedapap, Sudafed, Vicodin, Zydone, and other medications. Overdose of Acetaminophen can cause severe damage to the liver, sometimes even necessitating a liver transplant to save a life. When a person who already has liver damage due to alcohol or other illnesses ingests too much acetaminophen, the risks of overdose and death increase substantially. It should be noted that long-term use of this drug in recommended doses should not cause harm to the liver.

15.   Antidepressants

Ketamine is a dissociative drug used as an anesthetic in the medical field for its hallucinogenic effects, which make a person feel detached from their body and unable to feel pain. It is also sometimes used to treat depression in antidepressant medications because it improves mood very quickly. If used recreationally, Ketamine can be dangerous, causing long-term side effects such as high blood pressure, impaired memory, impaired motor function, and fatal breathing issues. The risk of overdose increases when Ketamine is used with other Opiate or Amphetamine drugs.

Can Dangerous Prescription Drugs Be Lethal?

The truth is that many helpful drugs prescribed by a doctor or sold over the counter can potentially kill a person if taken irresponsibly. It’s not always about which over-the-counter medicine can kill you, as much as it is about how one takes and uses the medicine, which is what can lead to damaging effects. If a user exceeds the prescribed dose recommended by the doctor or on the packet, fatal casualties can happen.

Once a person is addicted to a medicine, they may either buy a copious amount or lie and/or bribe doctors to provide them with prescriptions for more. If you find yourself becoming dependent on prescribed medication, speak to your doctor about slowly weaning you off the drug and trying something else instead. If you or your loved one is struggling with drug addiction, contact a professional to find out about further treatments, including medical detox and rehab.

Drugs Are Never Safe For You 

Now that you know a lot more about what medicines can kill you, you know never to assume that prescribed or over-the-counter medications are safe, regardless of the safety recommendations. Always follow the instructions of the doctor or the packet, and alert your doctor if the medication you are taking is becoming addictive. If you or your loved one is misusing drugs, know that you’re not alone in your struggle. There is help available in the form of medical detox, in-patient rehab, outpatient rehab therapies, and rehab. Contact Avenues Recovery 24/7 for support and guidance to start your journey toward recovery and sobriety. You deserve better than a life of addiction. 

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Sources

[1] www.cdc.gov

[2] www.cdc.gov

[3] www.verywellmind.com


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