The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported total overdose deaths were up 3 percent in 2010, with drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin responsible for 43 percent of the total, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
Incomplete data from 2011 suggest deaths from prescription drug overdose were still increasing.
"While most things are getting better in the health world, this isn't," CDC Director Thomas Frieden told the Times. "It's a big problem, and it's getting worse."
In 2009 for the first time, more people died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering new regulations that would limit prescriptions for painkillers to 90 days, except for cancer patients and people who can show they are suffering from severe pain.
"The data supporting long-term use of opiates for pain, other than cancer pain, is scant to non-existent," Frieden said. "These are dangerous drugs. They're not proven to have long-term benefit for non-cancer pain, and they're being used to the detriment to hundreds of thousands of people in this country."
The CDC figures do not show whether people who died from prescription drug overdoses obtained them on the street or from a doctor. The Times analyzed Southern California fatalities last year and found that almost half involved drugs prescribed by a doctor, and that some doctors had multiple patients who had died of overdoses.