Nearly 35 million people in the United States live with diabetes, which translates to more than one in ten Americans. This number has steadily risen over the past 50 years primarily due to dietary habits and the steady rise in obesity rates, which is a major risk factor for developing the most common form of diabetes, type 2.
Each November, the American Diabetes Association promotes American Diabetes Month to highlight the realities of living with the disease and to spread awareness of the challenges people with diabetes face. Proper disposal of sharps used in treatment is an important aspect of disease management that diabetics must deal with regularly. Let’s take a closer look at this issue and discuss how healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and commercial businesses can provide support.
Diabetic Needle Disposal Is a Common Struggle
Diabetic self-care often involves the use of sharp instruments. Many diabetics require medication or insulin to regulate their disease, and these therapies are typically delivered via injection. In addition, individuals must regularly monitor their insulin levels to make sure those readings remain in the target range. Such monitoring may involve the use of lancets or needles.
Proper diabetic sharps disposal can be challenging though. According to a 2019 Stericycle survey, one in four (25%) American adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes say that proper sharps disposal is a top concern when it comes to managing their disease. In addition, more than 60% worry that their sharps could harm someone if not properly disposed.
Although consumer disposal is not regulated, used diabetic syringes and needles should be thrown away in specially designed, puncture-proof containers that are separate from regular waste. Unfortunately, not all people with diabetes follow this procedure. Nearly one in seven patients (14%) toss needles, syringes, or lancets in a trash can when they are at home and 20% take used sharps home after administering insulin in public to throw them away in their private trash.
A Lack of Public Sharps Disposal Options Is a Problem
When in public, finding a safe place to dispose of sharps can be difficult. Nearly half (42%) of Americans with diabetes say this is the biggest hurdle when disposing of diabetic needles and lancets. Even though 69% of diabetics have administered an insulin injection in public, more than half (52%) have never encountered a sharps container in a public restroom. This lack of available disposal solutions leads 7% of diabetics to throw used sharps in public waste receptacles. Almost 40% of those who have done this say they did so because there were no safe containers nearby, and they had no other choice.
Note that people with diabetes would most likely take advantage of appropriate disposal solutions if they had ready access to them. The majority (85%) of those surveyed say an at-home sharps disposal kit would help them manage their diabetes more easily, and 75% say they would use a sharps disposal container in a public space or establishment if they saw one.
Risks of Improper Disposal of Diabetic Needles
Proper diabetic sharps disposal is critical. When sharps are thrown away incorrectly, such as in the regular trash, they present a public and environmental safety hazard and increase the risk of needlestick injuries. Not only could the individual handling the sharp be injured, but so could someone collecting the trash, which houses the exposed needle. Further downstream, this could also impact people interacting with the waste, such as those in a waste treatment facility.
When a contaminated sharp penetrates the skin, such as through a needlestick injury, there is a risk of bloodborne pathogens transmission, including the spread of bacteria and viruses. In some cases, this transmission can lead to serious illness, such as hepatitis, HIV or other bloodborne diseases.
Solutions that Facilitate Safe Disposal of Sharps Related to Diabetes
While access to convenient and secure sharps disposal can be difficult, there are several programs that can help people with diabetes overcome the challenges:
Individuals with diabetes can take advantage of user-friendly sharps mail back solutions, which allow them to safely throw away used sharps by placing them in puncture-proof containers that effectively store the sharps for later destruction.
When a container is full, the individual uses a prepaid shipping box and return label to easily send the container for proper disposal. The receptacle is conveniently sized, making it readily available when needed. Anyone can purchase these containers directly from Stericycle, or other organizations with sharps disposal expertise. Healthcare organizations should be aware of these solutions so they can make recommendations to patients when a diabetes diagnosis is made.
Public Health and Safety Programs
Commercial businesses can provide safe sharps disposal solutions for public spaces, offering their staff and customers a way to safely and discretely throw away used needles and lancets, limiting the risk of accidental needlestick injuries.
Containers come in a variety of sizes and can be securely mounted to workplace restroom walls, ensuring patrons have a private place to administer their medication. Businesses that purchase these containers can arrange for pickup by licensed drivers who replace full containers with clean, empty containers. Another option is to participate in a mail back program using a shipping box with a pre-addressed and pre-paid postage label.
Diabetic Patient Support Programs
Pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers that distribute insulin and other diabetes drugs may want to consider including disposal solutions as part of their patient support efforts. These solutions allow manufacturers to provide patients with all-in-one sharps mail back kits that include prepaid shipping boxes and return labels to make it easy for individuals with diabetes to collect and dispose of sharps.
An added benefit to these solutions is that they track and validate patient adherence to diabetic medication regimens and can provide visibility into when an individual discontinues injectable therapies. Reports show a confirmation of transactions, including shipments, deliveries, returns with weight and proper disposal.
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