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Administrator Wheeler Releases Memo to Improve Drug Take-Back Programs and Help Fight the Opioid Crisis

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EPA Press Office (

WASHINGTON  — Today, at the National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC) Drug Enforcement Forum, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released a new memorandum to provide clarity, certainty, and assist law enforcement agencies with the management of household drugs collected in take-back programs.

“Efforts by law enforcement agencies across the country to collect unwanted drugs from households is a critical tool in fighting the opioid crisis,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “EPA strongly supports these efforts and is working to ensure that drugs collected in take-back programs are transported and destroyed in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment, including the health of law enforcement officers.”

“We appreciate the leadership from Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on this important issue. With more than 72,000 drug poisoning deaths in 2017 alone, many of them related to the ever-increasing use of fentanyl-laced heroin, this tragic epidemic will only get worse unless we put forward every tool possible to tackle it,” said NNOAC President Bob Bushman. “Drug take-back programs play an integral role in tackling this epidemic by helping to keep unused prescription drugs out of the hands of those who might abuse them.”

“America's Sheriffs are proud to be a part of this process that is critical in fighting the opioid crisis, and this clarification will not only help law enforcement personnel stay safe but will protect the environment and improve public health in our communities,” said Daviess County KY Sheriff and National Sheriffs' Association Drug Enforcement Committee Chairman Keith Cain. 

In close coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and U.S. Postal Service (USPS), EPA’s memo provides law enforcement agencies with specific information they can use to best manage household drugs collected in take-back programs. Also, it will help ensure the public can benefit from these critical programs while protecting public health and the environment.

Included in this memo are the various cost-effective shipping methods law enforcement agencies can use to transport and destroy household pharmaceuticals collected in take-back program. This is estimated to save valuable time and resources for law enforcement as some officials have to drive hours to the nearest incinerator.

EPA cautions that emissions from burning collected household drugs via open burning or in burn barrels may pose health risks to law enforcement officers and members of the surrounding communities. The memo provides information on lawful options other than burn barrels such as solid waste and hazardous waste combustion units that can be used to safely destroy household pharmaceuticals collected by law enforcement.

The Agency encourages the public to take advantage of pharmaceutical take-back collection programs that accept prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, as these programs, when conducted in accordance with this new memo, offer a safe and environmentally-conscious way to dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals.

Read the full memo here:


According to CDC data, most people who begin abusing prescription pharmaceuticals obtain them from friends and family for the first time, often from household medicine cabinets. Households tend to accumulate old, expired, or simply unwanted prescription and over-the counter pharmaceuticals, increasing the potential for abuse and diversion. Many law enforcement agencies have established take-back events and programs to collect prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals from households. These take-back programs for household pharmaceuticals help reduce the misuse and abuse of drugs and the number of accidental poisonings, while at the same time reducing the practice of flushing consumer pharmaceuticals which may result in their entry into the environment.

Twice a year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back days. In the most recent take back day on April 28, 2018, law enforcement established nearly 6,000 collection sites across the country and collected nearly 1 million pounds of unwanted drugs. EPA strongly encourages law enforcement to participate in the DEA National Prescription Drug Take Back days to ensure drugs are safely removed from households and ultimately safely combusted while preserving local law enforcement resources.

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