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Unwanted pharmaceuticals pose safety, health and environmental threats in VT and the United States.  Many people die each year in the U.S. from overdoses of prescription pain killers both from illicit and accidental access by adults and children.  Unwanted medications can pose environmental risks when flushed or discarded in the trash as their residue may ultimately end up in water ways.  As a result, it is recommended that household consumers use collection locations and events for proper disposal where unwanted pharmaceuticals are collected and then incinerated.  Below is a resource developed by the Product Stewardship Institute which shows collection locations throughout the U.S. including specific to VT.  Also listed below are the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and Drug Enforcement Agency(DEA) websites.

From Product Stewardship Institute:

“To minimize confusion surrounding how best to dispose of leftover and unwanted medication, PSI conducted extensive research and outreach to key government, public health, environmental, and waste management stakeholders across the country. From that research, PSI compiled a robust, one-stop-shop online resource for consumers and community leaders who seek solutions. The Go-to-Guide from Product Stewardship Institute is also intended to facilitate information-sharing and promote coordinated drug take-back efforts from coast to coast. As such, it includes downloadable reference documents for public consumption and dissemination:

  • A consumer-specific fact sheet on the management of unwanted medication;
  • A "Myths vs. Realities" document that clears up misunderstandings related to pharmaceutical take-backs;
  • A "Lessons Learned" packet aimed at guiding local governments and community leaders through the process of establishing voluntary drug take-back initiatives; and
  • Mini case studies on voluntary initiatives in the Great Lakes Region."

EPA Resource: http://www.epa.gov/ppcp/faq.html

DEA Resource: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/index.html

Where to take Pharmaceuticals

For information on where you can properly dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals, please see these two below. These sites list locations such as sheriff and police departments and pharmacies that can collect unwanted medication all year round. They also list one day collection events. Please call the locations listed prior to dropping off any pharmaceuticals.

The Go-to-Guide from Product Stewardship Institute

DEA Resource: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/index.html



Regulatory requirements

Due to the various regulatory structures of pharmaceuticals, initial collection efforts have confronted many barriers to proper management. Some of these barriers have included Controlled Substances and Solid and Hazardous Wastes management rules and regulations.

Controlled Substances

Some household pharmaceuticals are regulated by the US Drug enforcement Administration (DEA).  These pharmaceuticals, which include many of the narcotic prescription drugs, are strictly regulated as to their prescription, dispensing, use and ultimate disposal.  As a result, these pharmaceuticals may be collected by a solid waste entity but once collected these pharmaceuticals must be immediately surrendered to law enforcement.  The law enforcement officer must then inventory and manage these controlled substances according to applicable DEA guidelines.

Solid and Hazardous Wastes 

When collection entities begin to take waste pharmaceuticals from businesses (i.e., nursing homes, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, etc.), the household exemption from hazardous waste regulations does not apply.  What this means is that businesses must manage their waste pharmaceuticals according to all applicable laws and regulations.  These include the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for regulated narcotics, Solid Waste Management Rules for Regulated Medical Wastes (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/pubs/MedWaste.pdf) and Hazardous Waste Management regulations for any listed or characteristic waste pharmaceuticals (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/rcra/hazregs/VHWMRFull_wCover.pdf), to name a few.

If Waste Household pharmaceuticals are collected only from households, they are exempt from Hazardous waste regulations.  It is important to note, that any waste pharmaceuticals collected from businesses are subject to all applicable VT Hazardous Waste Regulations, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Laws and Solid Waste Rules for Regulated Medical Wastes.

For collection events accepting only unwanted household pharmaceuticals, the collecting entity must submit an Insignificant Waste Management Event Approval Application (IWMEA).  This application, which “may only be issued if the Secretary finds that the collection event will not result in a threat to the public health and safety or to the environment, and will not create a nuisance.”, is available at  http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/permit.htm.

Collection program requirements

Due to the increasing demand for collection programs for unwanted household pharmaceuticals, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) suggests that entities implementing collection programs include the following in developing their unwanted household pharmaceutical collection events:

  1. Complete and submit an IWMEA application including the date and length of the proposed collection program, the location, proposed site security, site map, site specific safety, accident and contingency plan and the ultimate disposal of any unwanted household pharmaceuticals collected.
  2. Obtain the services of a licensed pharmacist, to identify, count and segregate unwanted household pharmaceuticals.
  3. Obtain the services of certified law enforcement personnel for site security and management of DEA regulated substances.
  4. Obtain the services of a licensed Hazardous waste contractor for proper hazardous waste disposal (preferably hazardous waste incineration).
  5. Partner with a local solid waste planning entity and/or a local health care institution.
  6. Address the potential for any sharps and/or any other regulated medical waste being delivered to the collection event. 
  7. Submittal of a report on the amount and type of waste pharmaceuticals collected and the number of participants. 



Mia Roethlein

Environmental Analyst IV

Waste Management and Prevention Division

Solid Waste Program

1 National Life Drive - Davis 1

Montpelier, VT 05620-3704

Phone: 802-522-5926





Last updated:
VT DEC Waste Management & Prevention Division 1 National Life Drive - Davis 1  Montpelier, VT  05620-3704  Tele: 802-828-1138  Fax: 802-828-1011

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