More than half of the 46,471 drug-related deaths in 2013 were caused by prescription painkillers and heroin, the DEA says. (AP File Photo)(CNSNews.com) - "Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, ahead of motor vehicle deaths and firearms (deaths)," the Drug Enforcement Agency announced on Wednesday.
In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, 46,471 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, and more than half of those deaths were caused by prescription painkillers and heroin.
That compares with the 35,369 who died in motor vehicle crashes and 33,636 who died from firearms, as tallied by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Sadly this report confirms what we’ve known for some time: drug abuse is ending too many lives while destroying families and communities,” Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said as he released the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment.
“We must stop drug abuse before it begins by teaching young people at an even earlier age about its many dangers and horrors."
Rosenberg spoke one day after Ohio voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana use. But 23 other states and Washington, D.C., allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.
The DEA ranks controlled prescription drugs and heroin as the most significant drug threats to the United States.
It also views marijuana concentrates, with potency levels far exceeding those of leaf marijuana, as an "issue of growing concern."
Meanwhile, the issue of drug abuse is making its way into the presidential campaign, as some of the candidates talk about their personal experience with addictions and even deaths.
"My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction," Carly Fiorina said at one of the Republican debates.
Jeb Bush's daughter was arrested on drug-related charges in 2002, and she has spent time in rehab. He has discussed this at some of his campaign stops.
And a video of Chris Christie talking about his good friend who became addicted to painkillers -- and died -- has now gone viral.
The National Drug Threat Assessment also discusses the traffickers, concluding that "Mexican gangs remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States."
The DEA notes that, according to reports from law enforcement, some of these Mexican gangs are "relocating from major metropolitan areas to establish bases of operation in suburban or rural areas."