HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Environmental Protection Agency says more patients these days are using injectable medicines and syringes at home. But not every patient knows where - or how - to dispose of these needles properly and safely.
"This is a problem," says Tracy Gushiken. She and her husband, Matt, are bewildered. "Look what we're stuck with!" Matt's diabetes requires him to take one insulin shot daily, but his used needles are adding up. He has dozens of syringes bagged and boxed.
"That's only one person," says Tracy. "So, how many more people? 'Cause how many diabetics are there? What are we supposed to do?"
When Matt lost his health insurance, he turned to the internet to purchase his diabetic supplies. But now, he can't get a Hawaii medical facility to take his old needles because he didn't buy them locally. "Since I have a whole bunch of syringes to get rid of, now we have a problem here," explains Matt.
The EPA says self-injecting medication at home is on the rise - for conditions ranging from allergies and arthritis to cancer, infertility, and migraines. The state health department says hospitals and doctors' offices aren't required to accept used syringes from outside their facilities.
"In the past, hospitals used to take stuff from homeowners, but it's gotten more expensive for them because they have to go through, normally, a third party contractor. They normally autoclave (sterilize) this material, and then, they shred it, or they put it into big disposal units, and take it directly to a landfill," says the state's Solid & Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief, Steven Chang.
The EPA says needle disposal, for self-injectors, isn't typically regulated nationwide. The state of Hawaii does recommend putting sharps inside a plastic soda bottle or laundry detergent bottle. Fill it with one part bleach and 10 parts water. Soak for 20 minutes, drain, replace the cap, secure with tape, label it "biohazard" and "not recyclable", and then, put it in the trash.
The Gushikens don't think that's a safe alternative. "We don't have the individual bins. So, it's going to go into those huge bins," says Tracy. I say, "And you're saying anybody could get into them." "Uh huh," responds Tracy. Their main concern is that children could get into the trash.
But the state department of health tells us it's the best option available - as the trash either heads to a landfill or gets incinerated.
You can also pay companies, like NCNS Environmental and Hawaii BioWaste Systems, to dispose of your old syringes or you can buy home destruction devices that clip, melt, or burn needles.
For more local information, go to the state Department of Health website at: http://hawaii.gov/health/healthy-lifestyles/std-aids/pdfs/syringe-disposal.pdf
Also check out: safeneedledisposal.org.