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The UK’s five most dangerous drugs

New research has revealed the five most dangerous drugs that cause the highest rate of fatalities in the UK, with cocaine taking the top spot.

  •  Cocaine is revealed to be the UK’s most dangerous drug
  • Antidepressants and benzodiazepine follow in second and third, respectively
  • ONS data was analysed to determine the ranking

UK residential rehab provider Abbeycare Foundation analysed ONS data to discover the number of deaths from drug poisoning per 1,000,000 people in 2021.

DrugNumber of deaths per million people
New psychoactive substance9

Cocaine places first for the highest amount of drug poisonings in 2021, with 29.2 deaths per 1,000,000 people. Females experienced a 459% increase in deaths from cocaine poisoning from 1994-2021, compared to males who saw a 340% increase. Signs of a cocaine overdose can be chest pain, anxiety, and tremors – and mixing the substance with alcohol can increase the chances of a stroke by raising heart rate and blood pressure.

Second on the list is antidepressants – the UK experienced 21.1 deaths for every 1,000,000th people due to drug poisoning. SSRIs are typically used to treat conditions such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, and OCD – and while these drugs are safe if the correct dose is taken, taking a higher amount than instructed can lead to toxicity. Nausea, blurred vision, and drowsiness are mild symptoms of an antidepressant overdose, with severe symptoms including hallucinations, difficulty breathing, and seizures.

Benzodiazepines place third, with 18.8 deaths from drug poisoning per 1,000,000 people. Although these are often prescribed for anxiety, seizures, and insomnia due to their sedative effect, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium can be highly addictive once the body builds a tolerance. Not only is it dangerous to take a higher dose than directed, but taking benzodiazepines with alcohol pain medications like opioids can increase side effects, with an overdose causing confusion and poor coordination.

New psychoactive substances (NPS) land in the fourth spot, with 9 deaths per 1,000,000 million people due to drug poisoning. NPS are created to provide the effects of illegal drugs that contain banned chemicals, such as ecstasy and LSD – but with the lack of knowledge of what exactly the substance contains, NPS users are unaware of what is entering their bodies. NPS is commonly referred to as legal highs as it is not illegal to possess them, making them seem safer; however, the Psychoactive Substances Act was introduced in 2016, making these drugs illegal to import and supply for human consumption.

Paracetamol is fifth on the list after witnessing 7.8 deaths per 1,000,000 people in 2021. Despite being a typical item in every household that is a go-to for pain, exceeding the instructed amount can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal. Symptoms of paracetamol poisoning can include skin and the whites of eyes turning yellow, vomiting, and unexpected bleeding.

A spokesperson from Abbeycare Foundation has commented on the findings: “Not only does the study reflect how serious the dangers can be of using substances such as cocaine, but it also highlights the importance of reading instructions on prescribed medication and not to underestimate the side effects. Paracetamol is a common painkiller in the UK, but ignoring the guidelines can have severe consequences; so, it’s vital to always check, particularly when keeping this in the house near children.”

“While the findings can place emphasis on these particular drugs, it’s crucial to be aware that the dangers are not limited to the top five. Always consider the consequences of controlled drugs and follow instructions with prescribed and over-the-counter medications to keep yourself safe.”

This information was provided by Abbeycare Foundation, a residential rehab provider with clinics around the UK.

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