The Ten Deadliest Prescription Medications

How Deadly Medications Reach the Market

meds 8The FDA recently released it’s report on the ten deadliest prescription medications and how many have died from taking these drugs. Since these are the deadliest prescription medications on the market, many wonder how the FDA could approve them.

There is a huge misunderstanding about the FDA’s role in approving medications, believing they are somehow involved in the testing process. They are not, they never have been; it is not their function and approval process is far from perfect The information used to make the decisions of allowing the sale of any prescription medication is primarily based on studies conducted or funded by pharmaceutical companies. While there are guidelines, the standards as to how these test must be conducted and what information must be reported is still left to the companies who stand to profit from these drugs.

The FDA approval process only determines whether or not a medication can be sold and marketed, While it is meant to indicate a reasonable margin of safety, it does not mean the medication will maintain the overall health of the user, that it will be without side effects or even be effective for an individual. That responsibility is up to the prescribing physician, who unfortunately often assumes, like the average consumer that FDA approval means it is safe to prescribe. While pharmaceutical companies spend billions advertising to consumers and physicians, no doctor can accurately predict how any given medication will interact with an individual. This means average drugs like Modalert are quite safe, but others, like antipsychotic medications, have higher risk profiles.

Clinical trial data can predict health benefits from new prescriptions entering the market, but these predictions are highly uncertain because many medicine will be prescribed beyond the profile of the clinical trial to patients. Also trial periods for medication are to short to fully comprehend the effects of long term usage.

Physician’s recommend treatment based on knowledge primarily provided by the sales reps of pharmaceutical companies, who job it is to convince doctors their medications are the ones to prescribe. Physicians do the best they can with this information and their job is to prescribe correct dosages. But doctors are not machines, they still need to interpret data and get feedback from patients.

The consumers must play a role in their own health. They must take primary responsibility to use medications appropriately.and to monitor the mental, emotional and physical reactions these medications create. There is an old saying “Physician health thyself.” If doctors need to be in charge of their own health, so do consumers. No amount of medication will over ride negligence or unhealthy life style choices. The drugs that made the list of ten deadliest prescription medications  are powerful and dangerous, but some of these deaths could be avoided with better consumer awareness.

This unfortunately is not a popular mind set. Many assume physicians are in charge of health. Even though the medical community freely hints at this idea and some in the health industry would like this to be true, the over all health, life style and well being of an individual is a responsibility of the individual, one they must actively engage in.

Medications can be deadly

Listed below are the ten deadliest prescription medications. They are ranked by number of deaths attributed to these drugs between the years of 1998 – 2005. The ranking does not take into account any side effects these medications produce. The top ten deadliest prescription medications are all painkillers, immune system modulating and anti-psychotic drugs. While these medications can be helpful, anyone taking these prescription medications needs to realize they are powerful and use them with vigilance and caution. Exercise caution, and where possible, look for non-prescription over the counter pain medicine.

Make certain every doctors you interact with has a full understanding of all medications your are using; it may be critical. Patients seeing multiple doctors often forget to give complete data. No one wants to be on medication, but you can minimize the risks. The primary interest of pharmaceutical company’s is to make money. Pharmaceutical company’s will not take responsibility for your health, so it is up to you to stay well informed and communicate with your doctor.

There are always alternatives to long term prescription medication usage, including those seeking to stop anxiety or OCD.

The ten deadliest prescription medications

Rank Drug Type Deaths 1998-2005
1 Oxycodone Prescription opioid painkiller* 5548
2 Fentanyl Prescription opioid painkiller* 3545
3 Clozapine Antipsychotic 3277
4 Morphine Prescription opioid painkiller* 1616
5 Acetaminophen Over-the-counter painkiller 1393
6 Methadone Prescription opioid painkiller*/addiction medication 1258
7 Infliximab Immune-system modulating drug 1228
8 Interferon beta Immune-system modulating drug 1178
9 Risperidone Antipsychotic 1093
10 Etanercept Immune-system modulating drug 1034
Source: Moore TJ et al., Serious Adverse Drug Events Reported to the Food and Drug Administration, 1998-2005, Archives of Internal Medicine, Sept. 10., 2007; 167 (16): 1752-1759. as of this writing, more recent data on the ten deadliest prescription medications is not available


  1. Why is it so many people are in pain these days? What are we doing wrong with our approach to life that we are all creating pain within us? I ask because I am one of those who works to minimize my pain.

    • You ask a question that cannot be adequately answered in a post, When you talk about pain are you speaking physical, emotional or mental discomfort? They may each have their own cause and effect and they each interact with each other. A lot of pain is caused by some form of stress. The AMA attributes 75% of all hospital stays to stress, so learning to minimize stress and effectively coping with life situations is always a good place to start.

      • Pain is often subjective not to mention opioids are addictive, the real question how do we help people without degrading them, who are addicted to opioids ? Opioid pain meds are absolutely God sent for legitimate use such as post op, migraines, trauma & cancer to name a few, therefore FDA should be very careful before they impose draconian protocols for prescribing these drugs and provide treatment in confidential setting by MD’s to wean off the addiction, just my perspective as I am a surgeon.

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