Which Drugs Are the Biggest Killers?

By Bryan Le 04/24/13

This stark graph shows how Rx drugs bear the most responsibility for rising OD deaths in the US.

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Death by unintentional self-harm. Photo via

In 2010, there were 80,000 drug and alcohol overdose deaths in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But which drugs, or cocktail medicine of drugs, are the most lethal? Popular Science has published a graph to show the breakdown of deaths by substances between 1999 to 2010. Leading the pack in lethality are "Pharmaceuticals," making up the big green portion of the stack, with "Unspecified" overdoses coming in at a distant second. On the flip side, the "Other" category—which includes cannabis, LSD, opium, mescaline, mushrooms and all cases of overdose by assault (intentional poisoning of someone with intent to harm or kill)—contains so few deaths it makes up a thin sliver of gray on top. Overall, the rate of reported overdoses the US more than doubled between 1999 and 2010. About half of those additional deaths are in the pharmaceuticals category, and nearly three-quarters of these deaths are from prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. 

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter