NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennesseans have turned in more than 40 tons (40 metric tons) of pills and pill waste over the past year, a rise in volume even as the death toll from drug overdoses continues to climb.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials collected nearly 35,500 pounds (16,100 kgs) of pills in events held over two days this past year, while the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation reports that permanent drop-off sites around the state collected more than 52,000 pounds (nearly 24,000 kgs) from September 2016 to August 2017, The Tennessean reported . Nearly 220,000 pounds (nearly 100,000 kilograms) of pill waste have been collected since 2012.

More than 1,600 Tennesseans died from overdoses of prescription opiates, illicit drugs and other medications in 2016.

Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force director Tommy Farmer says he's surprised and heartened that the volume of surrendered pill waste hasn't dwindled.

"It's good, but it's also shocking that the numbers continue to climb," the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent-in-charge said.

Farmer said collecting unused pills and reducing prescriptions enables law enforcement to focus on street drugs.

"We're making progress," he said.

A telephone survey of Tennesseans from across the state has seen a rise both in the number of people who take unused opioids to a drop box and who think that is the proper way to dispose of them. However, 52 percent of those surveyed said they didn't think it was dangerous to leave unused prescriptions around the house.

The next collection day will be held Oct. 28.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com