• Dennis Wichern

Want To Dispose of Drugs Properly? Here's How.

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According to Bloomberg, Americans spend more on prescription drugs per year than any other country in the world at around $1,100 per person.

Additionally, the CDC reports that four out of five new heroin users started their addiction by using prescription opioid painkillers like hydrocodone or oxycodone.

And we know from the Partnership for a Drug-free America that students and young adults oftentimes start their drug experimentation by taking unused medications from either their parent’s or grandparent’s medicine cabinets.

So, with the above information and the responsibility we all have to help improve America’s drug situation, one of the logical questions is: what can we do to safely, simply, and quickly destroy unneeded prescription and non-prescription drugs while still protecting our children and environment?

Let me walk you through the options.


The most secure and simple method of drug disposal is dropping them off at a participating law enforcement organization or pharmacy that conducts “drug take back.” Meaning that these licensed professionals operate specially made drop boxes that accept prescription and non-prescription drugs free of charge to the public, with the sole goal of providing a safe outlet for their destruction, usually by means of incineration.

It’s important to note that in addition to the DEA, the EPA and the FDA also advise citizens to use a “drug take back” organization or pharmacy as their first option for drug disposal.

There are a number of great websites listing various links for drug disposal and the following are a few of the top-notch ones out there where you can search by zip code or city and state:

  • AWARERX, operated by The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is a great website for finding both law enforcement and pharmacy “drug take back” locations.

  • DEA Diversion is a website listing only pharmacies which have registered with DEA to conduct “drug take back.”

  • Both Walgreens and CVS also have nationwide website links listing which of their pharmacies participate in “drug take back.”

Another option is to wait for DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day which occurs on the last Saturday of April and October of every year. The most recent event took in approximately 475 tons of drugs.

Medical professionals and organizations

Drug disposal options for medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics also known as “registrants” is different than for the average citizen and household. Registrants are any persons or entities which are licensed through state and federal agencies to handle controlled substances in their professional capacity. Pursuant to CFR 1317.05, registrants should not use household drug take back options to destroy their drugs.

The top registrant destruction options in order of preference include:

  • Returning the drugs to the manufacturer for destruction or for credit.

  • Transferring the drugs to a reverse distributor, a business registered with DEA to destroy drugs. These types of businesses will prepare all required record keeping documents in addition to destroying drugs. For reverse distributors in your area email

Registrants also have the authority to destroy drugs on-site pursuant to CFR 1317.05(1)and to seek DEA assistance if needed. It is also recommended to utilize the “rule of two” – two people working together and witnessing one another when destroying drugs to prevent possible drug diversion.

A complete listing of DEA registrant drug disposal can be found at 21 United States Code Part 1317 – Disposal.

Whatever option you choose, your choice will keep unneeded medications from being a possible source in today’s opioid epidemic while also protecting our environment for future generations.

Dennis Wichern is a retired DEA Agent who now works to mitigate controlled substance risk for providers and hospital organizations worldwide.

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