These Charts Show Which Drugs Are Actually Killing People in America

The news: The War on Drugs has completely missed the real drug scourge. Chemical drugs are killing scores of Americans every day, and it's getting worse each year. We can finally see the harsh reality of which drugs are the biggest culprits, and where they are wreaking the most havoc.

And surprise, surprise, it's not marijuana. Quite the contrary, perfectly legal drugs are paving the way for opiate addictions that lead many to heroin addiction. Those who become addicted to prescribed pharmaceuticals are more likely to seek out the same drugs illegally or switch to heroin, the most prevalent illegal opiate in the country.

Increased usage: Between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users increased 80% to about 669,000, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall), based on an analysis of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data. Eighty percent of those users had previously used prescription drugs.

In 2010, prescription opiates accounted for 60% of overdose deaths in the U.S.

Breaking it down: The charts below show the regional impact of prescription opioids, other prescription drugs and heroin on overdose deaths. Opioids are the dominant cause of overdose deaths, but in the Southern and Western regions of the U.S., things are particularly bad. In these areas, semisynthetic opioid pharmaceutical pain drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone level the most damage.


Charts via drugabuse.com

Looking at the states with the most overdose deaths from various drugs, it's clear these problems permeate every region of the United States. Twenty-nine states make up this breakdown, though West Virginia stands out with the most deaths per capita of any state, mostly from synthetic and semisynthetic opioids.


In an overall summary of overdose deaths in the US between 1999 and 2011, we see the drastic increase in chemical addiction that is plaguing the country. This is what a massive increase in overdose deaths looks like.


It's time for Washington to wake up: It's about time that we recognize that many of the real killer drugs in America are legal, and they lead many addicts to their illegal counterparts. While the government spends time fighting the War on Drugs, doctors continue prescribing prescription drugs rampantly. According to Centers for Disease Control data from 2010, 48.5% of respondents took prescription medicine in the month before the survey. That means that almost half of all Americans are frequently on prescription drugs at a given time.

The federal government is gradually addressing the issue, but a lot more people will likely die of overdoses before it's resolved.

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Abdullah Saeed

Abdullah Saeed covers drug policy, focusing on newly forming cannabis legislation in the US. He is the author of VICE's "Weediquette" column as T. Kid. His work has appeared in High Times, Huffington Post, Paper, and Village Voice, among others.

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