Once you’ve decided to get clean and start down the road towards recovery, one of the most important things you’ll need to do right away is ditch any drugs you’re still holding. This step is absolutely critical because there’s simply nothing good that can come from holding on to your stash.
Along with ditching your drugs, you’ll also need to get rid of all your drug paraphernalia. Depending on your drug or drugs of choice, this could mean clearing out everything from rolling papers to pipes, tin foil, lighters and razor blades. If you’ve been injecting, you’ll also need to dispose of your rig and spoons, while common items like straws, aerosol cans and even hair clips might need to go as well.
In a nutshell, if it’s an item that you associate with drug use, get rid of it. How you do that depends largely on the drugs you have, where you live and what options are available to you.
What The FDA Says About Safe Drug Disposal
While the federal government won’t tell you what to do with your unwanted street drugs, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does advise that “a small number of medicines have specific instructions to immediately flush down the toilet when no longer needed and a take-back option is not readily available.”
The prescription medications that the FDA endorses flushing include:
- Fentanyl (orally administered), including Actiq and Duragesic
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco and Vicoprofen)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Methadone and morphine
- Oxycodone and oxymorphone (Percocet, Percodan and Opana)
The DEA also sponsors biannual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days with over 5,800 collection sites throughout the country, including 133 right here in the Sunshine State. The stated goal of this biannual event is to help keep unused prescription medications out of the hands of drug dealers and unauthorized users, and since being launched in 2010 it’s collected over 10 million pounds of meds.
The agency also maintains a searchable database of controlled substance public disposal sites (mostly pharmacies) where you can turn in extra prescription meds year-round. It’s important to know that only prescription and over-the-counter drugs are accepted at DEA-endorsed events and locations.
Some counties and states also sponsor Medication Take Back programs; however, these largely exclude illegal drugs as well. Ironically enough, in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, marijuana isn’t accepted for disposal through the state drug collection program.
How Law Enforcement Officials Dispose of Illegal Drugs
In 2017 the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency seized over 1.2 million pounds of marijuana, 60,000 pounds of methamphetamine and more than 70,000 pounds of cocaine. All of those drugs — and the ones obtained by other law enforcement agencies across the country — are eventually destroyed in by incineration.
In the U.S., there is no national standard when it comes to illegal drug disposal. Although there are federal standards regulating incineration of pharmaceuticals, those rules don’t apply to contraband substances.
According to DEA Special Agent Rich Isaacson, the agency destroys any marijuana it seizes at EPA-approved, government-contracted incineration facilities, while other illicit drugs are burned in-house at DEA labs throughout the country.
Smaller police departments don’t have access to the high-temp incinerators found at medical waste facilities and steel manufacturing plants. In Pennsylvania, the state police own a small incineration unit, while in West Virginia, some law enforcement officials simply destroy illegal drugs in open fire pits and burn barrels.
Dumping Your Illegal Drugs — The Kitty Litter Method
The primary goal is to dispose of your illegal drugs is a way that prevents you or anyone else from using them to get high while also protecting against accidental exposure.
You want to render your drugs completely useless. In many cases, the absolute best way to do this is by burning your stash; however, unless you live on a farm or large property where you have access to a burn barrel or fire pit, incineration likely isn’t an option. Don’t attempt to burn your drugs in your barbecue, either — it’s simply too dangerous.
Another option is to flush your drugs — this works for pills and powders, but it also means you could risk a contact high, especially if you’re dealing with fentanyl, cocaine or unknown substances. Whatever you do, do not flush packaging such as baggies down the toilet.
Next to high-heat incineration and flushing, the most widely recommended and practical method of drug disposal involves mixing your drugs with kitty litter in a large, zip-style plastic bag. Ideally, the kitty litter will be well-used, since that will both make opening up the bag highly unappealing for anyone and render your drugs completely useless.
Triple-bag the kitty-litter/drug baggie, then place this in yet another bag that you can toss in a dumpster, sidewalk garbage bin or even your household garbage. This means you won’t have to worry about getting caught transporting your drugs to a secluded drop-off site or taking them out to the woods to be incinerated.
Some online message boards also suggest combining your unwanted drugs with used coffee grounds; however, that’s not a good idea if you live in an area where coffee grounds go into your green bin. You don’t want to risk exposing unsuspecting gardeners to drug-laced compost.
Where to Dispose of Needles and Paraphernalia
Nobody wants to get stuck with a dirty needle. Thankfully, needle disposal boxes are relatively easy to find in public bathrooms in malls, hospitals and many restaurants where they’ve been installed to provide diabetics with a safe place to throw out their insulin needles — this can be a good option if you only have a few needles to deal with.
You can also search online at The North America Syringe Exchange Network, or NASEN, to find a syringe exchange program in your area that will accept used needles from addicts.
And as with your drugs, disposing of your drug paraphernalia by either smashing and burning it or combining it with used kitty litter, then tossing it in the trash, is your best bet. If you can’t access a needle disposal box, be sure to break off the needle tips using a set of pliers and wrap them along with other sharp objects like broken glass in a thick paper towel before mixing everything with kitty litter.
What About Amnesty?
In an ideal world, you’d be able to surrender your illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia with amnesty to the authorities without question or fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, possession of any illegal drugs, including prescription drugs that are not yours, could put you on the wrong side of the law.
While some localized and event-specific amnesty programs exist — such as the “amnesty boxes” used to collected banned items and substances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California — there is no national amnesty program in the United States.
Whether or not you are charged with possession is largely left to the discretion of local law enforcement agencies and individual officers — that’s why discretion is advised when disposing of your drugs.
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