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25 Most Used Illegal Drugs in America

In this article we will take a look at the top 25 illegal drugs Americans are addicted to. Click to skip ahead and see the top 10 most commonly abused illegal drugs in the United States.

Insider Monkey is a financial news website and we closely watch addictive products because these companies’ shares usually outperform the market over the long-term. We aren’t just talking about tobacco stocks like Altria Group, Inc. (NYSE:MO) and alcohol stocks like Constellation Brands, Inc. (NYSE:STZ), but sugar companies like The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), and social media stocks like Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and its enabler Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) (if you don’t think Apple and Facebook aren’t addictive, try to live without them for a week). The size of the tobacco market is close to $50 billion in the United States. The size of the alcohol market is nearly $175 billion. The addictive fast food market is around $650 billion, and you know about the market values of Facebook and Apple. Addiction is a huge part of our economy and companies that market addictive products are potentially great investment opportunities.

We don’t have direct estimates for the size of the illegal drug market in the United States. RAND Corporation estimates that Americans spend close to $150 billion for the top 4 drugs used in this country. Since the top four drugs account for about 70% of the market, we can estimate that the size of the illegal drug market is north of $200 billion. A large percentage of these drugs are distributed by Mexican drug cartels and their partners (see our article about the 13 U.S. cities that are crowded by Mexican drug cartels).

Americans might be spending $200 billion on illegal drugs, but the economic and social impact of our drug addiction is several times bigger. A 2017 Bureau of Justice report estimated that 21% of incarcerated people are in prison for crimes committed to obtain drugs or money to buy drugs. That means around 500,000 people are behind bars because of our drug addiction. These people are responsible for creating tons of jobs for law enforcement officers as well as healthcare workers. We have a feeling that Bureau of Justice’s estimate is actually too conservative. A BoJ publication with the title “Drug Use, Dependence, and Abuse Among State Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2007-2009” says the following about drug use among the prison population:

“Fifty-eight percent of State prisoners and 63 percent of sentenced jail inmates met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse during 2007-09, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). In comparison, approximately 5 percent of the total general population age 18 or older met the DSM-IV criteria for drug dependence or abuse during this period. Overall, both State inmates (63 percent) and jail inmates (64 percent) regularly used marijuana/hashish more than any other drugs prior to incarceration. This was followed by cocaine/crack (24 percent of State inmates and 38 percent of jail inmates). Fewer State inmates (42 percent) and Jail inmates (37 percent) reported using drugs at the time of their offense. Sixty-nine percent of female State inmates and 72 percent of jail inmates met the DSM-IV criteria for drug dependence or abuse, compared to 57 percent of males in State prison and 62 percent of jail inmates. Drug dependence for State inmates and jail inmates is also reported by inmate age and race/ethnicity (Hispanics and non-Hispanic White or Black inmates). Twenty-eight percent of State inmates and 22 percent of sentenced jail inmates who met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse participated in a drug treatment program since admission to their current facility.”

We don’t think drug use among Americans hasn’t declined dramatically since 2007-2009, which is why we believe a much larger percentage of incarcerated people are in prison because of their drug addiction. Our “war on drugs” clearly failed to deliver us a victory over the last 5 decades. We believe it is time to decriminalize most drug offenses and instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on fighting drug trafficking, we can invest those dollars into our communities and use those dollars for the education and rehabilitation of addicted people. We know that we can’t stop the inflow of illegal drugs into the United States and outflow of our dollars into the pockets of drug lords (see our list of 12 richest drug lords of all time). Why don’t we produce and market these drugs so that we can at least stop enriching ruthless criminals and reduce violent crime rates? Maybe, way too many people in power benefit from the current system which is why it is so difficult to change it.

We created this list of top 25 most used illegal drugs in the United States using a recent report by National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) covering 2019. Here is a summary of what NFLIS is (from the report):

“The National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) is a program of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Diversion Control Division. NFLISDrug systematically collects drug identification results and associated information from drug cases submitted to and analyzed by Federal, State, and local forensic laboratories. These laboratories analyze controlled and noncontrolled substances secured in law enforcement operations across the country, making NFLIS-Drug an important resource in monitoring illicit drug use and trafficking, including the diversion of legally manufactured pharmaceuticals into illegal markets.”

In 2019 State and local labs identified more than 1.5 million drug reports. Here are the top 25 drugs identified in these reports:

25. Gabapentin

Number of drug reports: 3139

Percent of all cases: 0.21%

Gabapentin was most common in the South (1585 reports).

24. Carfentanil

Number of drug reports: 3288

Percent of all cases: 0.22%

Carfentanil was most common in the Midwest (3075 reports).

23. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Number of drug reports: 3315

Percent of all cases: 0.22%

Cannabidiol (CBD) was most common in the South (2043 reports).

22. Etizolam

Number of drug reports: 3368

Percent of all cases: 0.22%

Etizolam was most common in the South (2219 reports).

21. Phencyclidine (PCP)

Number of drug reports: 3979

Percent of all cases: 0.26%

Phencyclidine (PCP) was most common in the South (1840 reports).

most common illegal drugs used in the United States