Prescription drug abuse has grown so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have labeled it an epidemic. Local, state and federal authorities have been largely confounded about how to reverse the trend. According to the CDC, 12 million Americans reported in 2010 that they used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Many of them access drugs through friends, family and others who have kept -- or acquired -- unused prescriptions.

In an effort to take surplus medications off the street, more than 4,200 local, state and federal agencies coordinated for a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day last Saturday. Residents could bring their leftover prescriptions to a designated area, often a police station or health department. Government officials collected 276 tons (more than 552,000 pounds) of unused medications, the highest total of the four Take-Back days that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has held since 2010.

Some states have a bigger problem than others: Appalachia in particular is notorious for widespread abuse. According to CDC figures from 2008, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia ranked in the top 10 in prescription drug overdose deaths (between 15 and 27 per 100,000 people). Florida, which has the highest rate of per-person prescription sales, and Oklahoma, which has the highest rate of non-medical prescription drug use, have also been troubled by the trend.

The Appalachian states contributed a combined 68,540 pounds during Saturday’s collection, according to DEA data. California (48,648), New York (38,486) and Texas (37,445) -- not coincidentally the most populous states -- led the nation in sheer volume.

“Anything we can do to reduce that supply is going to go a long way in helping the problem,” Booth Goodwin, a U.S. Attorney in West Virginia, told the Associated Press. The state’s residents turned in 900 more pounds than they did during the last collection day in 2011. “That’s telling me that West Virginians are fed up, that they want to do something about this problem, and everybody is doing their part,” Goodwin said.

After the medications are collected, DEA agents transport them to the nearest state or municipal incinerator and promptly destroy the drugs. Many state and local agencies offered those services to the DEA at a discounted rate or for free as a public service, DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs, who assists in overseeing the Take-Back effort, told Governing.

State and local health departments and law enforcement agencies also played a critical role in communicating with their constituents and coordinating collection efforts during Take-Back drives, Boggs said. State and local officials staffed more than 5,600 collection sites nationwide. “We couldn’t do this without them,” he said.

Outside of National Take-Back Days, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) advises citizens to contact their local waste management agency. Many states and localities provide ongoing disposal services or offer guides for personally discarding unwanted prescriptions -- mixing the drugs with kitty litter or coffee grind is the new FDA recommendation.

The table below, based on data provided by the DEA, denotes each state’s contribution to last weekend’s prescription drug collection.

State/Pounds
Alabama: 2953
Alaska: 2694
Arizona: 8491
Arkansas: 10556
California: 48648
Colorado: 17621
Connecticut: 7406
Delaware: 6808
Florida: 17820
Georgia: 6913
Hawaii: 2395
Idaho: 4245
Illinois: 21762
Indiana: 15200
Iowa: 5360
Kansas: 8753
Kentucky: 6735
Louisiana: 4065
Maine: 19980
Maryland: 8633
Massachusetts: 19009
Michigan: 10319
Minnesota: 7826
Mississippi: 1486
Missouri: 20529
Montana: 1741
Nebraska: 5372
Nevada: 2908
New Hampshire: 4706
New Jersey: 16083
New Mexico: 3159
New York: 38486
North Carolina: 3764
North Dakota: 259
Ohio: 27704
Oklahoma: 1061
Oregon: 8117
Pennsylvania: 29305
Rhode Island: 2262
South Carolina: 2500
South Dakota: 1490
Tennessee: 5826
Texas: 37445
Utah: 5016
Vermont: 1832
Virginia: 16899
Washington: 13426
West Virginia: 4796
Wisconsin: 28857
Wyoming: 1224