The DEA’s Final Drug Take-Back Day is Saturday

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

You’d think that the government would want to grow and support a program that has successfully removed more than 4.1 million pounds of expired, unneeded, or unwanted prescription drugs off the streets, right? Well, think again.

Despite overwhelming success and a recent expansion of the program, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take-Back initiative will hold its last and final event on Saturday, September 27. So, what does that mean for the thousands of Americans who now rely on these take-back events to safely dispose of medications?

It’s Just Business

The DEA recently announced that its National Prescription Drug Take-Back program is coming to an end – at least in the way we’ve grown to know the program. The statement goes on to say that the initiative was “always meant to be a temporary measure” and the disposal process would now be left up to local agencies. The problem, however, is that most of these local agencies aren’t prepared to take on such a massive task.

The DEA’s stated goal is to combat addiction and “expand the options available to safely and securely dispose of potentially dangerous prescription medications on a routine basis.”

Instead of holding community take-back events, local manufacturers, distributors, reverse distributors, narcotic treatment programs, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics with on-site pharmacies will need to modify their registrations with the DEA and become “authorized collectors.” That ruling came down earlier this year from the agency. Simply put, drug take-back events will officially become DEA-authorized businesses.

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back program is coming to an end – at least in the way we’ve grown to know the program.

The Scramble to Properly Dispose of Drugs

Local officials from across the nation are voicing their concerns about the new DEA take-back guidelines. One of the most pressing issues is that the DEA’s new regulations don’t actually specify how authorized collectors are supposed to dispose of the drugs. In fact, the agency’s instructions for drug disposal are to “change their character so that they are no longer drugs.” Not very clear, is it?

Local organizations are not sure how to pursue the drug disposal process at this point. Changing the character of a drug could mean a million different things; people don’t know whether to dump them in a landfill, chemically dissolve them, or burn them. There’s tremendous room for error and the environment is likely to pay the biggest price. For example, when drugs are flushed down the toilet, local water supplies become contaminated. When narcotic drugs are incinerated, chemicals from the medications are released into the air. Should authorized collectors opt to “cut corners” on the disposal process, we could see mass contamination issues across the country.

Reaction of Community Leaders

The problem with turning over the disposal responsibilities is there aren’t very many places that are licensed to dispose of dangerous pharmaceuticals – not properly, anyway. It’s an extremely involved and complex process. And it costs money. Naturally, elected officials are voicing concern and frustration about the DEA’s decision to abandon the take-back events. Many are already drafting grant applications that would help to pay for the disposal process.

What You Need to Know Now

While state and local officials are trying to work out the kinks of the DEA’s new drug disposal regulations, many people are wondering how to dispose of unwanted medications past Saturday, September 27.

Authorized collectors will be allowed to place receptacles at registered locations, while collectors that have on-site destruction capabilities will be allowed to operate their own mail-in programs. Some collection receptacles will also be placed at local nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

Looking for a Local Collection Site?

In order to find the nearest collection site in your area, try the following:

  • You can find a nearby collection site by visiting, clicking on the “Got Drugs?” icon, and following the links to a database where they enter their zip code. Or you can call 800-882-9539.
  • You may continue utilizing the guidelines for proper disposal of pharmaceutical controlled substances as listed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Any method of drug disposal that was considered valid prior to the creation of these new regulations will continue to be valid after their implementation.

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