Destruction of Narcotics, Controlled Drugs, and Targeted Substances

Published: November 22, 2013

July 7, 2016 (to reflect that the Office of Controlled Substances, Health Canada no longer requires prior-authorization requests for the local destruction of unserviceable narcotics and controlled drugs)

Legislative References:

Additional references:

  • Standards of Practice, General Standard 1.43
  • Health Canada Guidance to Minimize the Loss and Theft of Controlled Substances within Pharmacies (Pharmacy Connection Spring 2013)
  • Health Canada Section 56 Class Exemption for Pharmacists and Persons in Charge of a Hospital for the Sale or Provision of Narcotics and Controlled Drugs to Licensed Dealer for Destruction (Pharmacy Connection Fall 2013)

College Contact: Pharmacy Practice


The regulations regarding controlled substances, i.e. narcotics, controlled drugs, benzodiazepines and targeted substances require that pharmacists take all steps necessary to protect these drugs in their possession. This includes ensuring that the drugs are accounted for and the inventory is accurate.

Damaged, unserviceable or outdated drugs are considered part of the inventory. Pharmacies need to account for these drugs as well and are responsible for ensuring that they are appropriately destroyed.

Authorization Process:

No prior authorization is needed for the destruction of narcotics, controlled drugs or benzodiazepines and targeted substances.

As of July 2016, Health Canada no longer requires pre-authorization requests for the local destruction of unserviceable narcotics and controlled drugs. This means that pharmacists may proceed with destruction without notifying and receiving acknowledgment from Health Canada in advance.

As noted in the Benzodiazepines and Other Targeted Substances Regulations, s. 2, the destruction of benzodiazepines and targeted substances may be performed by a pharmacist, practitioner or the individual in charge of a hospital according to the conditions outlined below.

Destruction Process

The options and process below apply to the destruction of all controlled substances (narcotics, controlled drugs, and benzodiazepines and targeted substances).

The pharmacist may choose (Option 1) to locally denature expired narcotics or controlled drugs or, the pharmacist (or person in charge of a hospital) may choose (Option 2) to sell or provide narcotics or controlled drugs to a licensed dealer who is licensed to destroy them.

Option 1: Local destruction on site at the pharmacy or hospital

With respect to appropriate record keeping and destruction, Health Canada recommends the following:

  1. Before any destruction, the pharmacist should record information with respect to the destruction, such as the destruction date, name, strength per unit and quantity of the controlled substance to be destroyed. This information should be kept for a period of two years.
    Beyond the two-year period, it is up to the hospital administrators, pharmacists or practitioners to determine if these records should be kept for a longer period based on other regulatory requirements such as provincial or professional practice regulations.
  2. The pharmacist should destroy the drugs in the presence of another health professional. Both witnesses should record their names and destruction date on a statement indicating they witnessed the destruction.
    For these purposes, a health professional could be a pharmacist, practitioner, nurse, pharmacy intern, regulated pharmacy technicians (in those provinces where they are registered with the pharmacy licensing authority) or an inspector from the provincial pharmacy licensing authority.
  3. The controlled substance should be destroyed using a method of destruction that conforms with applicable federal, provincial and municipal environmental legislation.
  4. The controlled substance should be altered or denatured to such an extent that its consumption has been rendered impossible or improbable.*

*Drugs may be altered or denatured using soapy water or another suitable vehicle to make a slurry before disposal by a waste management company licenced by the Ministry of the Environment

Option 2: Return the controlled substance to a licensed dealer who is licensed to destroy the controlled substance

On September 18, 2013, Health Canada issued a class exemption for pharmacists and persons in charge of hospital for the sale or provision of narcotics and controlled drugs destined for destruction pursuant to section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This exemption gives authority to a pharmacist and a person in charge of a hospital to sell or provide narcotics or controlled drugs for the sole purpose of destruction to a licensed dealer (LD) who is licensed to destroy narcotics or controlled drugs pursuant to a written order signed and received from the LD.

Records of the name, quantity and strength per unit, name of the pharmacist that requested the destruction, name and address of the LD to whom it was sold or provided and the date of the transaction must be retained for a period of two years, in a manner that permits an audit to be made.

NOTE: This exemption does not prohibit pharmacists from returning narcotics and controlled drugs to the licensed dealer who initially provided them, nor does it exempt persons in charge of a hospital from adhering to the provisions of section 65 of the NCR and section G.05.003 of the FDR-Part G as applicable.

Record Keeping

A physical count and reconciliation of all narcotics, controlled drugs and targeted substances is to be conducted regularly, at least once every six months.

Records for narcotics, controlled drugs, benzodiazepines and targeted substances are to be maintained for a period of two (2) years as per regulations.

Records of destruction may be kept with the Narcotic and Controlled Drug Purchase records.

Drugs Returned by the Public

Narcotics and controlled drugs returned by patients should be kept in a secure location until they are destroyed.

For Additional Information, please contact the Office of Controlled Substances

Office of Controlled Substances
Health Canada
150 Tunney's Pasture Driveway
Tunney's Pasture
AL 0300B
Ottawa ON K1A 0K9
Phone: 613-954-1541
Fax: 613-957-0110