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What are Laced Drugs and Are They Dangerous?

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What are Laced Drugs?
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Understanding Laced Drugs and Their Risks

Lacing, in the context of drug use, means mixing a substance with another, often more dangerous drug. Unlike the harmless intertwining of fabric or shoelaces, laced drugs carry a deadly risk. Many individuals unknowingly consume these tainted drugs, leading to a higher likelihood of overdoses and fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented over 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, marking a 15% increase from the previous year. This staggering figure translates to one overdose death every five minutes. Of these, 71,000 involved drugs laced with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, showing a 23% rise from 2020. This underscores the urgent need to address the overdose crisis in the U.S.

What Are Laced Drugs?

Laced drugs are substances mixed with other drugs, called adulterants or cutting agents. Common agents include methamphetamine, PCP, or fentanyl, which are added to amplify the drug’s effects. Unfortunately, these additives often lead to severe side effects and heightened health risks.

While the concept of lacing drugs is not new, the alarming increase in overdose deaths and the ongoing opioid crisis have brought this issue to the forefront.

Why Are Drugs Being Laced?

Experts suggest that some drugs may become unintentionally contaminated during processing due to the use of the same equipment for different substances without thorough cleaning. However, this alone doesn’t account for the sharp rise in laced drugs.

  • Cost-Effective Strategy: Law enforcement officials believe drug cartels lace drugs to reduce costs and increase profits. By boosting the potency of lower-quality drugs, they can sell them at higher prices, misleading customers into thinking they are buying superior products.
  • Increased Production: Lacing drugs allows cartels to use less of the actual drug, lowering production costs while increasing output. For example, drugs sold by weight may be mixed with other substances to add bulk, thereby increasing profitability.
  • Market Expansion: Some law enforcement agents argue that cartels lace cocaine with opioids to create a larger customer base addicted to drugs. This tactic turns occasional cocaine users into daily users by fostering a dependency on the highly addictive opioids mixed into the drug.

This strategy not only heightens the drug’s potency but also significantly enhances its addictive qualities, leading to increased dependency and more frequent usage. However, this dramatically raises the risk of overdose, especially when users are unaware of the stronger substances in their drugs.

Laced drugs are a significant public health threat, contributing to the rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. Understanding the dangers associated with these drugs and the reasons behind their production is crucial in tackling this growing epidemic. For those affected, seeking immediate professional help and staying informed about the risks of laced substances is vital.

The Dangers of Laced Drugs

Laced drugs are particularly hazardous, especially for those who unknowingly consume them. Parents need to be vigilant if their children are experimenting with drugs, as these substances are often mixed with other dangerous drugs without the user’s knowledge. For example, a person might believe they are taking pure cocaine or street-bought pills, not realizing these could be laced with harmful additives.

The danger is exceptionally high with drugs like fentanyl, which can cause severe reactions and lead to overdose very quickly. A minuscule amount of fentanyl mixed into cocaine or another drug can be deadly. Even in the absence of fentanyl, mixing drugs like cocaine (a stimulant) with heroin (an opioid) can lead to conflicting effects in the body, such as simultaneously stimulating and depressing the nervous system, posing serious health risks. Additionally, laced drugs can conceal overdose symptoms, making timely intervention more challenging.

Beyond mixing drugs with other drugs, there is also the risk of adulterating them with toxic household substances like rat poison and bleach, resulting in severe health complications such as internal bleeding and respiratory distress.

Common Adulterants in Laced Drugs

  • Fentanyl: A synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Even a minuscule amount (two milligrams) can be fatal. Fentanyl is often sold illegally and can easily be mixed into other drugs undetected, significantly contributing to overdose deaths in the U.S.
  • Carfentanil: This synthetic opioid is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, primarily used to tranquilize large animals. Its presence in recreational drugs presents a high risk of overdose, even for individuals tolerant to opioids.
  • Xylazine: Known as “tranq,” xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use but increasingly found in overdose cases. It depresses the central nervous system, leading to severe drowsiness, slow breathing, and dangerously low heart rates and blood pressure. Xylazine is often mixed with opioids to extend their euphoric effects.

How to Identify Laced Drugs

Detecting laced drugs is extremely difficult. Fentanyl, for instance, looks similar to other white-powder drugs and can easily go unnoticed. Painkillers, commonly abused by youth, can also be contaminated with hidden fentanyl. Many illicit drugs and pills, including those marketed as Xanax, OxyContin, and heroin, frequently contain traces of fentanyl, making it nearly impossible to identify laced drugs by appearance alone.

For those worried about potential exposure to laced drugs, seeking professional help and undergoing drug testing is crucial for ensuring safety and health.

Most Common Laced Drugs


Cocaine, often known by street names like crack, coke, or blow, is a fast-acting stimulant that impacts the nervous system and is widely used recreationally. Typically sold as a white powder, cocaine is usually snorted but can also be ingested orally, smoked, or injected. It is frequently laced with other stimulants, and fentanyl has become a common adulterant. According to the CDC, out of 16 urine tests conducted on cocaine users, 15 confirmed exposure to fentanyl. In 2016, nearly 40% of cocaine overdoses involved fentanyl.


Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as crystal meth, is a powerful stimulant known for inducing intense euphoria. Nearly 1% of the U.S. population reported meth use in 2020, making it one of the most frequently abused substances. Meth is often laced with opioids like fentanyl, ecstasy, benzodiazepines such as Xanax, and THC. Overdose deaths related to meth and other psychostimulants rose dramatically from 24,576 in 2020 to 32,856 in 2021, marking a 34% increase in just one year.


Even with legalization in many states, some users still purchase marijuana from dealers, which increases the risk of the product being laced to enhance weight or potency for profit. To avoid laced marijuana, it is advisable to steer clear of pre-ground products and buy from registered dispensaries.

Prescription Drug “Look-Alikes”

There has been a significant increase in counterfeit pills mimicking prescription opioids like oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, and Xanax, as well as stimulants like Adderall. In 2018, over 20,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills were seized in California, linked to a fentanyl counterfeit pill operation in Mexico City. These fake pills often contain dangerous substances like fentanyl or methamphetamine, posing severe and sometimes deadly risks.

Find Help for Substance Use Disorder

Whether drugs are knowingly laced or not, they can be highly addictive and lead to substance use disorder. However, recovery is achievable with the right treatment and support.

It’s essential to recognize that treatment should be personalized to address individual needs effectively. Iris Wellness Group provides a variety of outpatient drug rehab services in Chattanooga, TN, designed to meet specific needs and help individuals overcome addiction to lead fulfilling lives. Contact us today at 423-541-0656 or fill out our online contact form for more information.

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