This guest post comes to us from David P. Tusa, CEO and President of Sharps Compliance Corp. (Nasdaq: SMED), a leading full-service provider of cost-effective management solutions for medical waste and unused dispensed medications generated outside the healthcare facility setting.
The disposal of medical waste –- needles and syringes from home injections, or unused prescription drugs –- presents major environmental concerns. The nation’s overfull landfills face major environmental risks through leaching that healthcare waste disposal could worsen. Yet staggering amounts of medical waste must be properly disposed of to avoid risk of infection. For example, approximately ten million people in the United States self-inject outside of healthcare facilities, and about 40 percent of the medication associated with the the four billion prescriptions dispensed outside of the hospital setting annually are never used. However, innovative programs now offer new, responsible disposal options for both types of waste.
At least 20 states have collection programs for unused medications. For example, in 2009 the Iowa Legislature approved the Iowa TakeAway program, allowing the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, the Iowa Pharmacy Association, and landfill operators to cooperate on disposal of unused medications. North Dakota implemented a similar program in 2010. The programs promote many methods including the convenient disposal-by-mail option for unused medications, using a variety of sizes of containers and return packaging with pre-paid postage to an authorized treatment facility.
There is no national standard on syringe and needle disposal by self-injectors. Seven states have laws or regulations restricting consumer disposal of sharps and even states without laws provide guidance against placing sharps into trash disposal. Updated EPA guidance recommends solutions such as using government-approved systems to mail sharps for proper disposal, or physically taking used sharps to approved disposal centers.
An example of disposal-by-mail’s effectiveness in helping municipal governments can be seen in the experience of Cathedral City, California. Cathedral City became the first city in the nation to offer a free and confidential disposal by mail program to help residents safely dispose of used hypodermic needles, syringes and lancets. The program is now in its fifth year, and an estimated 1,400 participating Cathedral City residents who legally self-administer injections to treat diabetes, allergies, HIV and other medical conditions have prevented more than 480,000 used needles and syringes from potentially unsafe disposal in local landfills.
Medical waste will exist as long as people are ill and most likely increase as the population ages. With the federal government dramatically increasing health insurance spending, the best insurance could be disposal by mail options that reduce health and environmental risk of used syringes and unused medication disposal.
Photo Credit: Chuckumentary via flickr under a CC license