prevent needlesticks

Last updated on January 19, 2021

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Safe handling and disposal of used needles and sharps help prevent injuries caused by accidental needlesticks. Unfortunately, many people don’t properly dispose of their used syringes and sharps. As a result, other people are injured by used syringes that were carelessly discarded in garbage cans, dropped in parks and playgrounds, or left behind in other public places.

It’s scary to realize that there’s a chance that you or your child might find one! Do you know what to do?

You Found a Used Needle. Now What?

Anybody who finds a discarded syringe should assume it’s contaminated with a bloodborne disease or unknown type of drug.

The safest course of action is to call the authorities and report it. For example, you might alert park police, lifeguards, security personnel, a store manager, etc. depending on where the needle is located. You can also call your local health department or law enforcement agency to report it.

If you choose to remove it yourself, be extremely careful!  Children should be taught never to touch a used syringe but always report it to an adult.

The Spokane Regional Health District recommends these safe syringe removal steps for adults:

  • Do not try to recap the syringe.
  • Find a rigid, thick-walled, sealable plastic container big enough to contain the syringe.
  • Use protective gloves if possible.
  • Bring the container to the syringe. (Walking with an uncapped syringe increases exposure risk.)
  • Place the container on the ground next to the syringe.
  • Pick up the syringe in the middle of the barrel, never by the needle.
  • Place the syringe in the container, sharp in first, and let it drop. (Never try to hold the container as you place the syringe inside. You could accidentally stick yourself.)
  • Secure the lid on the container and affix with tape.
  • Remove your gloves and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you receive an accidental stick or cut from the used sharp.

If there are multiple syringes piled up, never try to separate them by hand. Always use tongs to lay them out separately prior to placing them, individually, into a safe container. Remember that protective gloves and tongs can reduce manual dexterity and make it more difficult to hold the syringe securely in place.

The Sharps Compliance infographic below shows the different types of sharps and offers some brief “do’s and don’ts” for safe sharps disposal.

Never Place Used Syringes in Garbage Cans or Recycling Bins

You’re only transferring the risk to someone else, usually a sanitation or recycling worker. For example, a recycling center in Broward County, FL reported a spate of worker injuries due to accidental needlesticks:

Hypodermic needles have stabbed five employees this year at the Waste Management Recycling Brevard plant — sending them to the emergency room for blood-borne pathogen treatments. Since New Year’s Day, workers have filled six 30-gallon “biohazard” cardboard boxes with thousands of dirty needles that Space Coast residents improperly tossed into curbside recycling carts.

Many municipalities do not permit contained sharps in the regular trash. Contact your local authorities before you place any sharps in your trash.

Medication Self-Injection Is on the Rise

Safe disposal of used syringes is a growing public safety issue, mainly because the rate of self-injection is on the rise in this country.

Although many people think of illegal drug use when they see the phrase “self-injection,” many people with cancer, migraines, or chronic conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis self-inject their medications. Nearly 45% of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and the numbers are expected to rise as the population ages.

When self-injection is a prescribed treatment, most medical professionals and pharmacists counsel patients on safe disposal methods approved by regulators. Sharps Compliance offers FDA-cleared Sharps Recovery Systems:

Illicit drug use (Schedule  I drugs) is also on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control call heroin use “an epidemic” in the United States. In contrast to those who self-inject and immediately dispose of their syringes, lancets, etc., many IV drug abusers regularly reuse needles. Needle exchange programs help curb this trend, but safe disposal is rarely a priority. Local laws regarding the possession of “drug paraphernalia” can act as disincentives to safe disposal. Abusers often share needles with others, which increases the risk of contracting/spreading bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

That’s why accidental needlesticks and cuts are so traumatic for the victims and expensive to treat. For example, after a classmate poked an Arizona child with a syringe, the injured child’s mother described the prophylaxis treatment, multiple tests, and the cost:

Amanda said her daughter is now taking antiviral medication for hepatitis and HIV as a precaution. […] Meantime, she said her out-of-pocket medical costs are mounting. The HIV medication alone cost $1,400 and her daughter will require regular blood tests for six months, she said.

Improperly discarded syringes affect the health and safety of our communities. Contact us to learn more about how using our medical waste disposal systems can protect you, your family, and your community from accidental injury.

Infographic: What to Do if You Find a Discarded Syringe or Sharp

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<p style="text-align: center;"><img style="width: 100%;  height: auto;"src=""> What to Do if You Find a Discarded Syringe or Sharp
- An Infographic by  <a href="">Sharps Compliance</a></p>

Kathryn earned her Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from Texas A&M University and her Bachelor of Science from the University of Texas. She is certified in high-complexity testing by the ASCP and has been published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology. Her experience ranges from the clinical laboratory to compliance expertise in biohazardous waste management.

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