Travel Nursing Guide To Wasting Narcotics

Clinical Corner

Check out our latest article on this topic: Who Can Witness Narcotic Waste?

By Chris Vinton, Medical Solutions Quality Assurance Specialist

While “waste” isn’t always a good word to hear in the nursing field, it is when it comes to narcotics. The proper disposal and documentation of narcotics is very important when dealing with controlled substances. When disposing of excess narcotics, always be sure you have a witness and are properly documenting the amount wasted.

Check With Your Manager

First and foremost, check with your manager to see if there are any specific hospital policies regarding wasting narcotics, because hospital policies on the way narcotics can be wasted do vary.

Some hospitals require a witness at every step of giving and disposing of a narcotic. Other hospitals have electronic systems in place to ensure the proper amount is drawn and given to the patient. Most hospitals state that narcotics should be disposed of in secure containers, such as a sharps container. Others allow narcotics to be wasted down a sink or even flushed down a toilet.

When Excess Narcotics Should Be Wasted

Immediately. Excess narcotics should be wasted immediately. Keeping narcotics in unsecured locations increases the risk of them being lost or stolen and creating major issues in documentation. It is very important to have another nurse as a witness to the wasting of narcotics. You should never, under any circumstances, waste narcotics alone and should always have someone else sign off as a witness. On the other hand, you should never sign off as a witness for someone else if you didn’t watch the narcotics being properly wasted — doing so could implicate you as an accessory.

Who Can Witness Narcotic Waste?

In most states any licensed nurse or pharmacist can be a witness to narcotic waste. Your hospital might have different internal policies and your state might have more specific requirements for wasting controlled substances.

Wasting narcotics according to hospital protocol is especially critical for Travel Nurses. Trust is very important in the nursing field and building trust as a Traveler is essential to your success while on assignment. Properly wasting narcotics is an easy way to build trust and show to the hospital and your colleagues that you are trustworthy and 100% professional.


Drug Enforcement Agency (9/2014) Disposal of Controlled Substances; Final Rule.

Environmental Protection Agency (8/2008) Unused Pharmaceuticals in the Health Care Industry.

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