Federal data show drug overdose deaths have risen for the 11th straight year.
But the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows most of those deaths were accidental, involving addictive painkillers despite growing attention to risks from these medicines.
Opioids -- which include OxyContin and Vicodin -- were the biggest problem, contributing to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths.
Anti-anxiety drugs including Valium were also among common causes of medication-related deaths.
Among the medication-related deaths, 17 percent were suicides.
The information is for the year 2010. The CDC reports there were more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths nationwide that year. Medicines, mostly prescription drugs, were involved in nearly 60 percent of those deaths, overshadowing those from illicit narcotics.
The report appears in Tuesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.