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Published on January 29th, 2018 | by Deb Wolf

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Safe Sharps Disposal

Current prEvents   January 27, 2018    Times Argus

By ANN GILBERT, Director of Central Vermont New Directions Coalition

Safe and easy disposal of sharps is a public health priority in Vermont.

What are Sharps? “Sharps” is a medical term for any of the invasive devices that can cut the skin either for medicine or even illicit drug use. Examples include: Hypodermic needles, syringes, lancets or finger stick devices, auto injectors like insulin or epinephrine pens, infusion tubing with needles to deliver drugs to the body, or connection needles to take fluids out of the body such as for dialysis.

Improper disposal is a health risk. Since hundreds of Vermonters use these devices on a daily basis, either to manage their personal health care at home or for drug use like heroin or meth, the disposal of sharps can be of concern when thrown in the trash or the recycling bin, tossed out on the street or in parks, left in public bathrooms, or flushed down the toilet. This is unsafe for communities, children, pets, and those who handle the trash. Being pierced by one of these sharp objects is rare, yet it can lead to an injury, infection, or to blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis B and C. According to the EPA, most needle sticks occur in health care settings with nurses and few are waste related. There is a low risk of being infected unless the puncture happens shortly after the sharp has been used.

Safe disposal boxes are a solution. Needle sticks are classified as a preventable health risk by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) Many Vermont towns are practicing prevention by installing disposal boxes as a resource to the community. These are safe and secure, locked and tamper-proof units. Some models can hang on the wall. Others are large mailbox-style drop boxes or kiosks.

Vermont cities are seeing the need for sharps disposal boxes. Some communities surveyed residents to get a sense of places where sharps have been found and if residents are in favor of installing drop boxes. Very few respondents opposed installation and listed parking lots, parks, and sidewalks as hotspots. Municipal leaders are working with key partners such as city departments, hospitals, law enforcement, fire chief, solid waste, housing authorities, and community organizations to identify sites and install secure boxes for public use. Disposal boxes are going up in public restrooms of city buildings and near areas where sharps have been found. Many of the police stations have a sharps box attached to the permanent drop box they have for prescription drug disposal.

In Montpelier, a City Management Team ordered 16 boxes which are being installed by the Department of Public Works as a trial. Locations include the Montpelier Senior Activity Center, Montpelier Recreation Center, Fire Station, Police Department, and restrooms in City Hall. Come summer, the pool and rec field will have boxes as well. These boxes will be monitored and maintained by the Fire Chief and emptied as needed. Monitoring these sites will help determine whether to expand the number of boxes to include other locations such as churches, the library, or even outdoor boxes in the parks or park and ride.

Other disposal methods: Before these sharps disposal boxes have appeared, people have been encouraged to follow safe guidelines from the state by placing them in a rigid #2 container which is taped, labeled, and disposed of in the trash–not recycling. Of course many needles are disposed of in a safe manner in medical settings.

What to do if you find a sharp: Local law enforcement recommends not touching them. Call your local police station with the location. Teach children not to touch them but to tell an adult if they see needles.

What to do if you get stuck by a sharp? Although this is rare outside of a health facility, universal safe practices include: Stop what you are doing and stay calm. Let the wound bleed and gently squeeze. Wash with soap and running water. Apply an antiseptic and bandage. Note the time of the injury, the needle’s location and what it looked like. Was it dirty? Contact your health care provider or urgent care center to report and inquire about testing or a vaccine.

Prevention is key. Protect yourself, your community, your environment, and family and friends. The proper disposal of needles and syringes is an important step to keep our cities clean and help to reduce any fear and stigma related to sharps.

Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
Send feedback to currentprevents@gmail.com or 223-4949


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