LOS LUNAS, N.M.—U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says steps need to be taken in New Mexico and across the country to curb escalating problems stemming from the abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs.

The New Mexico Democrat met Friday in Los Lunas with medical experts and law enforcement to discuss their current strategies and the challenges they still face in tackling the problems.

Udall also unveiled legislation aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse and improving treatment options.

He said New Mexico has one of the highest drug overdose rates in the nation, with 40 percent of those overdoses caused primarily by prescription drugs.

"Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and it's leading to addiction and death. More people die now from prescription drugs like oxycodone, morphine and methadone than from illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine," Udall said. "With this shift, the drug epidemic has moved from the streets to our medicine cabinets and—all too often—into the hands of our children."

Udall's legislation would expand medical education training and the use of timely data to ensure patients receive prescriptions safely and legally. It would also call for expanding the reach of prescription drug databases across state lines and bolstering the tracking of high-risk prescriptions.

The measure also aims to increase the assessment of patients so those who are potentially addicted could be referred to treatment.

Under the legislation, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and state and local governments would also be encouraged to form partnerships to expand opportunities for proper medication disposal.

Udall said New Mexico has already piloted many of the initiatives in the bill.

New Mexico was among the states that participated in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day two weeks ago. In all, officials with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said about 324 tons of expired and unwanted medications were turned in at more than 5,600 take-back sites, marking the second biggest collection event.