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What Could Illicit Drug Synthesis Expose You To?

For the 44 million Americans aged 12 and older who used illicit drugs in 2014, the associated health risks are grave. But there’s another risk that accompanies illegally manufactured substances – the exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Clandestine drug labs operate across the country. Operators procure a variety of ingredients (including everyday household products) to produce illicit substances. These labs are designed for secrecy – not safety. The “cooks” may not be properly trained, and the chemicals and equipment can be questionable. Unfortunately, the consequences – including health issues, environmental damage, and even fires and explosions – can be deadly.

To provide a broad view of the hazards associated with illicit substances as well as track drug trends over time, we compiled data from SAMHSA, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET), and the CDC. Read on for a look at the terrifying and tragic world of illicit drugs.

Tracking Substance Use Trends

When it comes to drug use trends in the United States, the results are mixed. The good news: As you can see from the graph, since 2002, the proportions of the U.S. population that use many types of illicit drugs have remained fairly steady or have even slightly declined.

However, on the whole, illicit drug use is on the rise. In 2014, 10.2 percent of people aged 12 and older used illicit drugs during the past 30 days – a higher percentage than any other year from 2002 to 2013. What’s fueling the increase? Two issues: marijuana use and the nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers. Heroin use has also increased. As a result of this increase in illicit drug use, the number of drug laboratories in the U.S. has also increased, mainly due to the rising popularity of synthetic drugs. To meet the demands of drug users across the country, drug manufacturing has gone into overdrive.

Many of the drugs listed on the chart above are illegally manufactured – meth, a stimulant, is the most common example. In 2014, there were 9,338 meth incidents (labs, dumpsites, or seizures) in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These incidents cause an array of health and environmental issues. Next, we’ll take a look at the specific hazards associated with the manufacture of meth and other illicit drugs.

The Hazards of Illegal Substances

Most of us wouldn’t volunteer to be exposed to the hazardous chemicals in substances such as nail polish remover, disinfectant, and paint; however, these are precisely the types of products involved in the manufacture of some illicit drugs. People in clandestine drug labs are at high risk for immediate health problems, such as chemical burns, fume inhalation, and injury from explosions. And the lingering toxic chemicals cause risks to others too: law enforcement, hazardous material cleaning crews, neighbors, and future owners of the property.

What types of ingredients do these labs contain? Most drugs require hydrochloric acid for transporting and administering. Typically used in the production of substances like fertilizer and dye, this toxic substance poses numerous risks both to the environment and to people’s health: It can cause eye, nose, and respiratory inflammation and even burns and scarring.

Phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) is involved in the manufacture of both meth and amphetamines – and it’s typically used as a swimming pool cleaner. It can irritate eyes and skin. Potassium permanganate, which is used in cocaine manufacture, can ignite or explode when mixed with certain substances. It is also used as a disinfectant. Piperidine is toxic when inhaled and ingested, and it’s used in the production of PCP. The substance is typically used as a solvent as well as to produce rubber.

Aside from the associated health risks, illicit drug production can certainly have a negative effect on the planet – whether due to deforestation from drug crops or chemical disposal. However, synthetic drugs (those made with manmade ingredients) can pose unique consequences, often affecting urban and industrial areas. Below, we’ll look at the specific health risks associated with the most common types of drugs.

The Hazards of Substance Use

Whether taken once on a whim or used regularly over time, illicit drugs are not only addictive, but also put users at risk for dangerous short- and long term health effects.

Amphetamines, which are sometimes prescribed to treat ADHD, can be taken orally, injected, or even smoked in the form of “ice.” They speed up the body systems, which can cause a host of health risks from a spike in blood pressure to seizure risk.

A fast-acting opiate, heroin can be injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. It is extremely addictive, and to keep achieving the same results, people who use it must continually increase their dose, putting users at an especially high risk of overdose.

In recent years, different drugs that come with new dangers have emerged. “Krokodil,” which has been called the world’s deadliest drug, is made from ingredients like iodine, lighter fluid, and cleaning products. Consumption can cause gangrene and rotting flesh. “Bath salts,” a synthetic crystalline substance, can cause extreme behavior issues (including psychosis and violence) as well as the risk of heart attacks.

Each drug comes with unique health risks – as you can see from the graphic above, the lists of issues are lengthy. If you’d like a comprehensive look at over 150 of the drugs people use, visit Next, we’ll look at the worst possible result of using any type of drug – experiencing an overdose.

Paying the Ultimate Price

In the United States, drug overdoses have hit an all-time highand the opioid epidemic has been the driving force behind this unfortunate upward trend. Heroin deaths have also skyrocketed. Tragically, in around 8 out of 10 cases, a person who dies from an overdose did so unintentionally. In fact, overdoses are the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the country.

A variety of factors can play a role in overdose deaths, such as a person’s weight and body size, age, and past experience with drugs. Drugs manufactured in secret labs can have concentrations higher than expected or quality-control problems that heighten the risk of injury or death. However, when abused, even carefully produced pharmaceuticals can be deadly. According to the CDC, at least half of overdose deaths from opioids stem from prescription drugs.

The Dangers of Drug Abuse

The risk of serious health conditions, driving under the influence, getting caught in the cycle of addiction – the hazards that come with taking drugs are numerous and varied.
While synthetic drugs do increase the hazards of taking drugs, substance use disorder of any type is dangerous and can affect virtually every aspect of life including relationships, work and finances. Addiction is not voluntary – it’s a disease that affects how the brain operates. If you’re struggling with dependency, visit today to learn about treatment options and take the first step toward reclaiming your life.


The information used for this article was taken from a variety of reliable government and other health agencies. Existing charts and data were gathered and compiled into infographics.

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