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February 2019

Ask an Expert: How does a diabetic deal with his used needles

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Ask the Expert

Over the last few months, I’ve written a few blogs on medical and sharps waste disposal, and the services that Initial can offer in this area to prevent incidences like the one in Pietermaritzburg where a large bag of used needles was recently dumped near a local primary school.

And in my piece on the need for readily available Sharps disposal units, I looked at scenarios in which one may need to dispose of a used needle outside of a medical practice. As a follow-up to this, we thought it would be really informative for our readers to hear from someone who is an expert in having to dispose of needles, but who is not a doctor. Trevor is a colleague who works closely with Initial, and who has been a self-administering insulin user for the last 34 years due to his Type 1 diabetes.

1.Tell us a little bit about yourself, please

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in my final year of primary school.  Less than one week after my 13th birthday, the paediatrician who diagnosed me broke the bad news that I would have to inject myself every day for the rest of my life.  

I’m now in my 34th year as a diabetic and excluding 6-monthly blood tests that I have at the clinic, I estimate that so far, I have injected myself in my abdomen about 40 000 times! I have also pricked my fingers to check my blood sugar level approximately 30 000 times!

2. How often do you have to self administer insulin?

Thank goodness, technology has evolved.  In the early days, I used to have to draw up animal insulin in a disposable syringe and inject myself twice a day.  Things got easier when pharmaceutical companies launched pens with which could be preloaded with synthetic insulin cartridges that, for me, would last for about 5 days.  In that time, I moved to doing 4 injections per day which gave me better control of my blood sugar levels. I stayed on that regime for about 20 years.

Then 6 or so years ago, I moved onto an insulin pump.  The pump is programmed to release insulin throughout the day and connects directly to my blood sugar meter via Bluetooth!  I change the infusion set with a special device that looks a little like a stapler. When I remove the needle, I am simply left with a little cannula under the skin which comes out easily 3 days later.

3. Were you given any training/guidelines by your doctor regarding what to do with your used needles?

No. I can’t speak for all diabetics, but frighteningly for many years I simply threw my needles and my finger pricking lancets in the dustbin. The used strips that I took out of my meter, with dry blood, were also thrown directly in the bin. I have, however, changed my ways...

4. How do you dispose of your insulin needles? And what do you do with the vial that the insulin comes in (is it glass?)

For the last few years, I have used a special “Sharps” bin for the needles and the lancets.  It is much safer, so I feel better about the process. The lancet I use to prick my finger is loaded in a little device for a month so it’s also easy for me to dispose of it safely in the sharps unit. The glass insulin cartridge, however, goes straight into the bin.

5. Do you ever have to throw them away in a regular dustbin, and if so, does that bother you?

Not any more, but I shudder when I think of that many sharps being unprotected and what may have happened to refuse workers etc.

6. Would you like to see Sharps disposal units in public bathrooms/facilities?

Yes, very much so.  There have been a few occasions when I’ve had to change my pump infusion set in public areas and I always end up keeping the remains in a plastic bag until I get home.

7. Any advice for other diabetics out there who may not know what to do with their needles?

Needles are a necessary evil for us diabetics, and handling them and disposing of them is a way of life.  But, we always need to remember the risks involved for other people especially when they are unaware of the contents of our rubbish!  

We’ve said this before, but here at Initial, we believe that providing units for the safe and hygienic disposal of needles should be something that every big gym, shopping mall, office block or restaurant chain considers doing, for the wellbeing and peace of mind of both customers and employees.

Initial’s sharps disposal bins are impact and puncture resistant, as well as being seepage proof, to guard against the risk of NSI’s and cross-contamination, and this service can be tailor-made to the volume of sharps waste your site generates.

Contact Initial today for more information on how we can tailor make our medical waste services for your business, and a free quote.

Do you have a question for our experts?
Fill in the form and we’ll try our best to answer them in the next “Ask an Expert” blog series. Alternately, join our Insights blog for continued updates and insights into the world of Hygiene.

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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