The number of sharps discarded by Americans outside the traditional healthcare setting has roughly doubled in the past 10 years, now annually reaching 7.8 million used needles, syringes and other injectables.
Approximately 13.5 million people discard the nearly 8 million sharps, up from 3 billion to 4 billion a decade ago, according to data from the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal. The majority are people managing their own healthcare with diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV. The number of needles generated from illegal drug users increased by 50 percent to 1.5 million.
The overall number excludes veterinary care in the United States, which is reported to be significant for large animal and livestock healthcare, the coalition said in a news release.
The increase was not surprising to the coalition, because of the aging of the population and the increased prevalence of diabetes. “These numbers will likely continue to increase for those same reasons over the next 10 years,” said coalition board Chairman Dr. Ben Hoffman. “Unfortunately, the majority of self-injectors are still disposing of home-generated sharps in the municipal solid waste stream. This places environmental service workers and the general public at risk for needle stick injuries and infections from accidental exposure to used sharps in the municipal waste stream (MSW).”
There has been progress in curbing sharps disposal in the past 10 years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency re-wrote its recommendation on the disposal of home generated sharps; California, Mississippi, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin have passed laws addressing disposal; and Florida and New Jersey established drop-off sites.
“While there has been some progress, we are far from recovering the 7.8 billion needles in the household garbage,” Hoffman said. “It’s pretty simple – needles don’t belong in the garbage. Medical waste laws require that needles be carefully disposed of as medical waste in healthcare facilities, but those same needles are being allowed in the household garbage once the patient leaves the medical facility.”
The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, a national non-profit organization made up of government agencies, professional associations and businesses, worked with Human Capital Management Services (HCMS) to examine current needle usage in the U.S.