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updated 10/5/2010 8:20:34 PM ET 2010-10-06T00:20:34

A daylong, nationwide effort to get people to turn in old or unwanted prescription drugs collected more than 121 tons of unused medicine.

With prescription drug abuse on the rise, the goal was to keep the drugs from falling into the hands of abusers and criminals.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration organized the national prescription drug "Take-Back" day on Sept. 25. Officials offered people across the country a free, anonymous and legal way to get rid of potentially dangerous prescription drugs that have been cluttering medicine cabinets.

"The Take-Back Campaign was a stunning nationwide success that cleaned out more than 121 tons of pills from America's medicine cabinets, a crucial step toward reducing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse that is plaguing this nation," DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement Tuesday.

More than 4,000 sites accepted drugs
DEA spokesman David Ausiello said people across the country flocked to more than 4,000 sites to get rid of old drugs and just about anything they got with a prescription that they didn't need any more, including needles.

Authorities said a woman in Jacksonville, Ill., handed over drugs she's collected for the last 50 years while a man in Troy, Mo., hauled a kitchen drawer packed with medicine to a drop-off site.

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It's illegal to turn over unused prescriptions to anyone other than law enforcement. But the House and Senate have passed legislation allowing state and private entities to create responsible drug take-back programs. The bill awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

Ausiello said DEA officials are likely to hold at least one more take-back day before any legislation takes effect.

During the six years ending in 2006, there was a 175 percent increase in accidental prescription overdoses, according to federal data.

7 million teens and adults abuse prescription drugs
By 2009, 7 million Americans aged 12 and older abused prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. That was up from 6.3 million in 2008.

Unsure of what to do with unused prescriptions, countless people flush them down the toilet, potentially sending unwanted medicines into the water supply. Or worse, they throw old medicines out, giving drug-seeking criminals a chance to find them in the trash.

The take-back program, Ausiello said, gave federal authorities a chance to collect and then incinerate the drugs.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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