The Top 5 Most Harmful Drugs to Society

  Drug Harm Rating
1 Alcohol 72
2 Heroin 55
3 Crack Cocaine 54
4 Methamphetamine 33
5 Cocaine 27
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  1. There are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States which makes it the 3rd leading cause of life-style deaths in that country. Additionally, excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.3 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death. In the single year 2005, there were more than 1.6 million hospitalizations and more than 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, more than half of the adult U.S. population drank alcohol in the past 30 days. Approximately 5% of the total population drank heavily, while 15% of the population drank in binges. (a.)
  2. Death from alcohol poisoning usually occurs in one of three ways:
    1. The blood alcohol level reaches such a high level that the depressant effects of the drug slow down the parts of the brain and nervous system that control breathing and the heart. Usually the drinker dies because they have stopped breathing and their heart has stopped, usually while unconscious.
    2. While unconscious, the drinker has been sick and choked on their own vomit. There are also rare reports of an unconscious drinker choking on their own tongue.
    3. the alcohol reacts with another drug that the person has taken. This can be either a prescription drug, over the counter medication or an illicit substance. These deaths are even more unpredictable as they can happen at a relatively low blood alcohol level. (b)
  3. The immediate health risks (which include their social consequences) of alcohol can include the following:
    1. Unintentional injuries, including traffic injuries, falls, drownings, burns, and unintentional firearm injuries. Violence, including intimate partner violence and child maltreatment. About 35% of victims report that offenders are under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol use is also associated with 2 out of 3 incidents of intimate partner violence. Studies have also shown that alcohol is a leading factor in child maltreatment and neglect cases, and is the most frequent substance abused among these parents.
    2. Risky sexual behaviours, including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and increased risk of sexual assault. These behaviours can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
    3. Miscarriage and stillbirth among pregnant women, and a combination of physical and mental birth defects among children that last throughout life.
    4. Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels that suppress the central nervous system and can cause loss of consciousness, low blood pressure and body temperature, coma, respiratory depression, or death. (b)
  4. Among illicit drugs in the United States, cocaine was involved in 482,000 hospital visits, and heroin was involved in 201,000 hospital visits. (c.) Internationally, heroin addicts have an increased risk of death from drug overdose, violence, suicide, and alcohol-related causes, with opiate overdose the most frequent cause of death. Heroin-related deaths occur mainly among young adults and account for a large number of life years lost in developed countries. For example, in cities in Scotland and Spain, opiate-related deaths account for 25 percent to 33 percent of deaths among young adult men ages 15 to 35.(c.)
  5. Heroin accounts for more than half of illicit opiate use and is usually injected.Injecting drug users are also commonly infected with hepatitis B and C viruses; more than 60 percent of users in Australia, Canada, China, the United States, and Europe are infected, and 75 percent of the infections are chronic. Up to one-tenth of those with hepatitis C develop liver cirrhosis, which is often fatal. (c.)
Top 5 facts sources:
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). "Alcohol Use and Health". Retrieved Jan, 2011 from
  2. <liNational Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. (2011). "The Harmful Effects of Alcohol". Retrieved Jan, 2011.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). "Unintentional Drug Poisoning in the United States". Retrieved Jan, 2011 from
  4. Disease Control Priorities Project. (2008). "Addiction to Heroin and Other Opiates". Retrieved Jan, 2011.
Tags: Top 5 Most, Drug & Alcohol Statistics

Sources:  The Lancet (medical journal), Volume 376, Issue 9752, Pages 1558 - 1565, 6 November 2010.

List Notes: Drugs were scored with points out of 100, with 100 assigned to the most harmful drug on a specific criterion. Zero indicated no harm. MCDA modelling showed that heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals (part scores 34, 37, and 32, respectively), whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others (46, 21, and 17, respectively). Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) in second and third places.
Most Harmful Drugs to Society

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