DEP urges safe disposal of medical needles used in the home

Posted Sept. 10, 2012, at 2:46 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 10, 2012, at 4:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Department of Environmental Protection is encouraging Mainers to safely dispose of needles used to treat various medical conditions in the home.

Maine residents use millions of medical “sharps,” such as needles, lancets and syringes, to control illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and infertility, according to the DEP. Stockpiling used sharps in the home or disposing of them improperly in the trash puts residents, their families and waste collection staff at risk for accidental needle sticks that can lead to infections and disease, said Samantha Depoy-Warren, a spokeswoman for the DEP.

“Given the population here in Maine, we have tens of thousands of people who use sharps,” she said.

The DEP, which oversees biomedical waste, is taking the lead on a new campaign to educate Mainers about safe handling and disposal of sharps. The department will distribute 40,000 educational brochures — largely through Rite Aid and other pharmacies, veterans groups and MaineCare — as well as devices that people can use to clip the points off medical needles and safely dispose of them.

Maine residents can also request the clipping devices through DEP’s new safe sharps website at

“Every month, DEP gets dozens of calls from home sharps users questioning how to dispose of their used sharps safely,” DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho said in a press release announcing the campaign. “While the callers’ circumstances are different — from an elderly man needing daily insulin injections to a young couple overcoming infertility through hormone shots — their care and concern for doing the right thing is consistent.”

Medical sharps can be thrown in the trash if precautions are taken to secure and label them in a puncture-proof container.

“One of the biggest challenges faced by patients that require injectable medications and self-blood testing at home is the safe disposal of their used needed and lancets,” said the state’s health director, Dr. Sheila Pinette. “Maine has a large population of these patients.”

Residents also use sharps to treat their pets’ medical conditions.

The campaign expands on a similar initiative implemented last year in New Hampshire by Rite Aid and Becton, Dickinson and Co., a New Jersey medical supply and equipment company.