17 March 2021
The past year has been hard for many people as they struggle with health, work, and personal issues while remaining socially distanced with limited access to resources that make life easier. During this difficult time, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to lead their communities to help them handle some of their day-to-day challenges. With the right tools in place, neighborhood clinics, retail pharmacies, and other community-based healthcare organizations can step into the role of community leader and steward, offering support and guidance for their neighbors. Here are three ways such organizations can make a difference.
Although the opioid crisis has long been an issue for many communities, the pandemic is fueling an alarming rise in addiction and overdose deaths. Some are using opioids, including prescription painkillers, as they battle depression, stress, loneliness, and grief. Individuals are also using the drugs to treat worker injuries, which are more likely now that many employers are reducing on-site labor and placing more responsibilities on workers who are present, possibly increasing injury risk.
Compounding these issues is the fact that unused or expired prescriptions often remain in people’s homes, making it easier for them to access the drugs. Six out of 10 patients prescribed opioid painkillers end up with leftover pills for one reason or another, and these are frequently forgotten in medicine cabinets or nightstands. The longer an unused prescription is stored within reach of others, the higher the chances the drug may fall into the wrong hands.
Even if patients opt to throw away their unused medications, they often don’t do it correctly. A 2019 Stericycle study showed that almost one in five Americans (18%) don’t know how to safely dispose of unused or expired drugs. As a result, nearly 30% throw medications in the trash and 26% flush them down the drain or toilet. This is a problem for the environment because the drugs can enter the regular waste stream and contaminate surrounding landfills and waterways.
So how can a community health organization help? By providing user-friendly and confidential methods for disposing of unused or unwanted prescriptions, community health organizations can help get potentially addictive substances out of people’s homes. For example, by giving patients a drug takeback envelope with their prescription, providers offer a way for patients to securely mail any unused medications to a facility for destruction, making the disposal process safe and easy. Similarly, organizations can set up drug takeback kiosks in convenient locations where patients can anonymously throw away unwanted drugs. In addition to making disposal simpler, such solutions can prevent dangerous chemicals from leaching into the environment, supporting a community’s sustainability efforts.
Patients who have conditions that require injectable medications, such as diabetics, must continuously engage in self-care at home. Without safe and secure methods for disposing of used needles, lancets, and syringes, people can injure themselves or others, especially if they opt to throw away used needles in the regular trash. Not only could the individual handling the sharp be injured, but so could someone collecting the trash that contains the exposed needle. Further downstream, people interacting with the waste, such as those working in a waste treatment facility, could be impacted as well.
There are also environmental risks associated with improperly disposed sharps. When these items are mixed with the regular waste stream, they can end up in landfills.
Unfortunately, patients may not have ready access to effective sharps disposal solutions at home. This is where community health organizations can once again make a difference. By providing easy-to-use, puncture-proof containers, organizations can help patients safely store their sharps for later destruction. When a container is full, the individual can use a prepaid shipping box and return label to easily send the container for proper disposal. Since the receptacle is conveniently sized, individuals can store it in a closet or under the sink, making it readily available when needed. These types of solutions can ensure patients throw away sharps correctly and protect themselves and the environment.
With the vaccine rollout underway, pharmacies and clinics are ramping up efforts to distribute the vaccine efficiently. As part of this work, organizations should have a plan for how to safely dispose of the increased medical waste that will be generated as more people receive the vaccine. This may involve expanding the inventory of sharps containers. Or, if the organization is offering the vaccine through a temporary pop-up location, it may entail purchasing additional disposable sharps containers to manage waste at the location. Note that some vaccine manufacturers are recommending that fully discharged vaccine vials be discarded in sharps containers, which should be considered when planning container quantity. In addition, vial trays can also be discarded as medical waste to align with vaccine manufacturer instructions. By ensuring the correct amount and type of waste containers, organizations can prevent needlestick injuries and also avoid contaminated material from ending up in the surrounding environment.
At Stericycle, we stand ready to provide community health organizations with a variety of resources that can enable the proper disposal of unused drugs, contaminated sharps, and COVID-19 related waste, including that associated with the vaccine. For example, our consumer take back solutions help patients dispose of unwanted medications safely and privately. Our puncture-proof sharps containers ensure that used needles, lancets and syringes cannot cause harm to people or the environment. And our COVID-19 Vaccine disposal solutions help organizations distributing the vaccine facilitate proper and secure waste disposal. We also offer up-to-date resources on the COVID-19 crisis and how to safeguard staff, patients, and communities. Our goal is to empower healthcare organizations to serve as community leaders and give them the resources they need to keep people and the environment safe.
Learn more about how Stericycle’s suite of solutions can help you become a leader in your community.
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