More than 7.8 billion needles are used each year by the 13.5 million people who self-inject medications outside of a healthcare setting. That 7.8 billion number doesn't take into account the lancets that are used by those with diabetes who test their blood sugar. Self-inject medications are used for treating a wide range of conditions, including osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, migraines, cancer, kidney disease, and psoriasis. In addition, patients administer blood thinners, growth hormones, infertility drugs, vitamin B-12, and allergy shots. As the number of drugs injected at home continues to grow, the use of sharps in the home will dramatically increase as well. Where will all these needles go? Too many times, patients throw them in the trash, creating significant health concerns.
Scope of the problem
Upon discharge from a hospital, long-term facility, or a homecare agency, patients may be given a needle disposal container, but facilities for needle disposal are often not available, as only few states have needle disposal programs or options for disposal other than household trash. Previously, hospitals and doctors' offices were willing to accept this as medical waste, but due to the high cost of medical waste disposal this courtesy is usually no longer available.
As a diabetes educator, I find it amazing that patient's may dispose of the needles, syringes, and lancets in the household trash or into the sewage system. Typically needles, syringes, and lancets are placed in soda bottles, coffee cans, and detergent bottles and then disposed of in household trash. This trash is then compacted, crushing the container and spilling needles into the landfill or clogging conveyor belts, requiring sanitary workers to hand pick syringes with exposed needles out of the system.
This is serious health concern for many individuals who are untrained regarding the health risk to which they are exposed on a daily basis. A surprise encounter with a used syringe, needle, or other sharp in a playground, park, or at work can provoke intense fears of injury and life-threatening infections. If a needle stick injury occurs, the costs of providing post-injury counseling and prevention measures are significant. While there are limited data on these occupational and nonoccupational risks, problems that can arise from unsafely discarded used sharps include needle stick injuries and potentially fatal blood-borne infections.
Coalition for Safe Needle Disposal
As nurses, we have lobbied long and hard for safe needle and sharp safety in hospitals. We now need to raise awareness in communities, local governments, and state governments about the need to provide a safe needle disposal option in communities, and we need to educate the public on the problem and possible solutions.
The Coalition for Safe Needle Disposal encourages grass-roots efforts to be organized by stakeholders throughout the United States. The Coalition hopes to raise awareness of the need for proper needle disposal programs to be established in all communities. It is vital that all healthcare providers become involved as they play an important role in awareness campaigns, in forging of partnerships, and in changing regulations, policies, and laws to guarantee access to safe disposal programs.
In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the Coalition for Safe Needle Disposal, published new guidelines for safe needle disposal outside traditional healthcare settings. The guidelines request that individuals using sharps participate in a safe needle disposal program and not throw needles, syringes, or lancets into household trash.
These new recommendations are found in the publication "Protect Yourself, Protect Others: Safe Options for Needle Disposal"
(http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/med-home.pdf) and a second publication "Community Options for Safe Needle Disposal,"