The Top 10 American Cities with Drug Problems


Drug abuse is undoubtedly a major public health issue in modern America, with roots too complex to try and pinpoint a single cause or issue. Looking at the tapestry of American cities that have the most prevalent drug issues tells a complex story that gives us an idea of the many variables and voids that people use drugs to fill. To even attempt to solve the problem of addiction means to take a closer look at the locations and communities where substance abuse reigns supreme, whether due to abject poverty or a thriving prescription painkiller black market.

Addiction does not discriminate amongst racial, sexual or financial criteria, and as the cities below show, it is a rampant problem among all ethnicities and regions. Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems. Luckily, there are a number of effective treatments available that can help people recover from addiction and lead normal, productive and happy lives.

Here, in no particular order, are the Top 10 Cities in America with Drug Issues:

  • Espanola, New Mexico: This small town of just over 10,000 people consistently makes federal statistics lists in terms of overdose deaths. While the national average of drug-related deaths per 100,000 people is 7.3, the figure shoots up to 42.5 in this small town with an 85% Hispanic population.

  • Baltimore, Maryland: According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore is home to the highest number of heroin addicts and heroin-related incidents of crime in the country. With 300 deaths related to heroin in 2013, it’s no wonder both The Fix and ABC News call the city “the heroin capital” of the United States. It is so prevalent, in fact, that 1 in 10 of the city’s residents (60,000 people out of a population of 645,000) is addicted to heroin. Due to its location on the middle of the East coast, drug smugglers often start in Baltimore and ship heroin up and down the coast. This means that Baltimore dealers and users get a purer (and also deadlier) form of the drug compared to the finished product that is eventually distributed throughout the rest of the United States.
  • Dayton, Ohio: According to a CDC Analysis, this city saw a 21.5% increase in opioid overdose fatalities, making this city No. 1 in the nation in overdose deaths per capita.

  • Chicago, Illinois: The third largest city in America has a drug problem drawn across racial lines. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that the drug cartel has more than 100,000 agents operating in the city and is responsible for 70% of the illegal drugs being traded on the streets of Chicago. The drug cartels use the vibrant Hispanic neighborhoods as their bases to market heroin and methamphetamines to mostly black areas, according to the Washington Post.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio: A couple of years ago, Cincinnati saw a huge growth in the sale of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid meant for animals that’s even stronger than fentanyl. In 2016, the city that had already been struggling with an opioid crisis saw 174 overdoses in just six days.
  • Missoula, Montana: A 2009 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Survey in this mostly Caucasian city of 66,788 people found that the city had the highest rate of illegal drug use in the country. SAMHSA reported that 13.8% of responding households reported using chemical contraband in the month preceding the survey. Forbes reported that the state of Montana is in the throes of a methamphetamine epidemic that resulted in 50% of the state’s adult incarcerations.
  • Birmingham, Alabama: This southern state is attempting to deal with its widespread opioid addiction. When responding to calls, law enforcement officials in this city frequently carry Narcan, a drug that helps stop overdoses. It’s also been made accessible at pharmacies. “Anyone can go into a pharmacy at this point because there’s a standing prescription for anyone in Alabama who walks in and says they may need that for a loved one, a friend, or even for themselves,” Dr. Stefan Kertesz, with UAB Medical School, told WVTM 13 News.
  • Kermit, West Virginia: With a population of only 406, this small town has been dubbed the “ground zero” of the prescription drug epidemic. It is a poor, remote area where a small Sav-Rite pharmacy and another about 10 miles away moved almost 3.2 million units of hydrocodone in 2006. The national average at the time was 97,000. West Virginia, though the ninth smallest state in the country, has the nation’s highest drug overdose mortality rate: 28.9 per every 100,000 people. That’s a 605% increase from 1999, when the mortality rate was just 4.1 per every 100,000 people.

  • Wilmington, North Carolina: According to a study published by Castlight Health titled “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce,” it is estimated that more than 11.6% of the Port City’s population that receives prescription painkillers abuse the drugs. The study also found that more than half – 53.8% – of all opioid prescriptions in the city are abused.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 among the nation’s 44 counties with over 1 million residents: 46 per 100,000 residents, with most attributed to the misuse of opioids. Only Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, had a higher rate.

As you can see, drug addiction and abuse is a problem that affects millions of Americans and their loved ones throughout the entire span of the country. The good news is that help is available to those seeking recovery.

Leave a Reply