The sharps disposal is one area in the medical waste disposal field that has come up over and over again in urban legends, TV shows, and other random horror stories. How many times have you heard about the HIV-infected needles supposedly left in coin slots, under gas pump handles, or in cinema seats to infect unsuspecting people? Or about drug addicts that come up with some excuse to see the physician and steal the sharps disposal box when his back is turned, plus whatever other parapharnelia and meds they can get their hands on?
By now, everyone should be aware of the importance of proper sharps disposal.
There are about 9 million Americans who use needles or other sharps to manage their medical conditions (or their pet’s medical conditions) at home, at work, or while traveling. This amounts to more than 3 billion used needles and other sharps that must be disposed of outside health care settings each year.
Examples of sharps used outside of health care settings may include:
- Needles – hollow needles that are used for injecting medications/drugs under the skin
- Syringes – used to inject medication/drugs into the body, or withdraw body fluids.
- Lancets, (“fingerstick” devices)– little prick devices that use a short, two-edged blade to draw just a few drops of blood for various testing. Lancets are used for diabetes most commonly. They can also be used for placing on slides in a home lab or live blood analysis.
- Auto Injectors- these include epinephrine and insulin pens – syringes that are already filled with medication so people can self-inject them into their bodies.
- Infusion sets – tubing systems with a needle that are used to deliver drugs to the body.
- Connection needles/sets – needles that connect to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. Generally, this is used for patients on home hemodialysis.
Other illnesses that necessitate needle usage -and therefore proper sharps disposal at home- can include arthritis, cancer, allergies, diabetes, hepatitis, infertility, migraines, MS, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, even psoriasis, and of course HIV/AIDS.
Used sharps disposal items are dangerous to people -and pets!- if they are disposed of without proper medical waste disposal. Besides for causing injury, they can spread infections like Hepatitis B (HBV), Hep C (HCV) and HIV. (Those are the most common infections that come up when dealing with bad sharps disposal.)
If sharps disposal items are not placed in a proper sharps disposal container, they can put trash and sewage workers, janitors, housekeepers, household members and children at risk of being harmed. NEVER put loose sharps disposal materials -like loose needles- in household or public trash cans, recycling bins, or flush them down toilets.
Pet owners who use needles to give medicine to their pets should follow the same sharps disposal guidelines used for humans.
There are sharps disposal containers that can be bought online, individually, or purchased through our website as a one-time deal, no contracts. On our site, guidelines are included with the purchase.
On the bright side, if there has been a breach of sharps disposal protocol, it’s not as bad as you may imagine. According to Merck, someone who is accidentally pricked with an HIV-infected needle has approximately a 1 in 300 chance of contracting the disease. This risk increases, of course, if the sharps disposal item (needle, in this case) penetrates deeply, or if the needle contains blood infected with HIV as opposed to just being covered in it. Infected fluid that may spray from a sharps disposal item into a health care worker’s mouth or eyes has less than a 1 in 1,000 per cent chance of causing infection. A combination of antiretroviral drugs, when taken soon after exposure, can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of becoming infected from an accident. This is the recommended course of action.
It is estimated that in 2006, for example, approximately 57 health care workers contracted HIV from needle pricks. The estimated number of accidental pricks that occur in medical waste disposal settings each year is 800,000.
Another reason to guard your sharps disposal is theft. Here are some stories I got, floating around the internet stratosphere:
“A Cincinnati woman faces theft charges after Cincinnati Police say she stole from a sharps disposal container inside Christ Hospital in Mount Auburn. According to court records, Ashley Jones, 23, broke into a sharps container just before 4 p.m. Monday and stole what was inside the metal container, including two vials of morphine. Jones is charged with theft of drugs and vandalism”.
-November 5, 2009.
“A man was allegedly caught stealing syringes and controlled substances from hospital containers earlier this year.
The 27-year-old was arrested on complaints of larceny of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of a controlled dangerous substance after hospital security detained him around 4 a.m. inside the medical center. According to his arrest report, the man was carrying a trash can filled with needles and 100 to 200 discarded vials containing small amounts of drugs when hospital security confronted him.
The hospital is investigating how the man, who falsely claimed to be a janitor, was able to get to the containers without employee access.
Police are investigating whether the arrest is related to the discovery of discarded medical waste containers in a previous week. Those containers, which were traced back to the medical center, had syringes and blood in them.”
-August 27, 2012
“A young woman stole a “sharps disposal box” from Hackettstown Regional Medical Center and removed needles and medications from it, police said.
On Aug. 24 at about 4:53 a.m. police were called to the hospital to investigate a theft. They found the suspect, Brittany Dill, 24, of Hackettstown in the parking lot.
Under questioning, Dill admitted taking the sharps disposal box and removing the needles and medications, police said. The sharps disposal box was later found in a restroom at the hospital.
Dill was searched and found to be in possession of eight bags of heroin, Suboxone, two vials of Lorazepam and one smoking pipe, police said.
She was charged with three counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, two counts of theft of movable property, criminal mischief, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a hypodermic needle. Dill was lodged in the Warren County Correctional Facility with bail set at $30,000. “
Please guard your sharps disposal, and if you are using sharps outside a health care setting, please get a good container to use for proper sharps disposal. Take your sharps disposal seriously!