Disposing used sharps

Needle with drop of bloodIn the UK, we consider it a relatively straightforward process, to dispose used sharps into a compliant sharps bin and have these collected for approved incineration.  But not everyone finds this so straightforward.

Chat on the UK-Muscle Body Building Community web forum centres around those who are, I presume, self-infecting illegal anabolic steroid products.   Such is the law in the UK, import and sale of these are similar drug products is illegal though their use by individuals is not. We need not concern ourselves here with the former matter, but must acknowledge that the administration of these products is highly dangerous, especially when used in excess and/or administered from shared vials with shared needles and syringes.

Leaving aside the considerable risk of infection with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, the latter now increasing at an alarming rate among gym users/bodybuilders, and HIV, there is the question of disposal.

Safety is essential; many gyms have responded by placing secure sharps bins in the toilets while those using standard sharps bins must ask themselves if they are facilitating the retrieval of used sharps for re-use. Despite sharps bin provision, many gyms report problems of drug litter in changing rooms and toilets, placing other gym members and staff/cleaners at particular risk.

Though this group may be accepted into needle exchange schemes, providing new injection equipment and sterile swabs, antiseptics etc, there are many ‘responsible’ individuals who will continue with this dangerous drug use but who wish to dispose of their used needles responsibly.

Sterile needles and syringes are readily available from a myriad of mainly internet-based sellers in the UK. This includes good old Amazon who sell small packs of needle, syringe and antiseptic wipe, a business decision that will infuriate the moral majority but which presumably satisfies a need. There are clear public health advantages to this.

So too with sourcing sharps bins. Good quality sharps bins are available, in numbers from just a single unit.  On Amazon today you can buy a purple-lidded sharps bin, AND have it gift wrapped too! The mind boggles.

But once you have your sharps bin – hopefully of the correct colour code – what happens next. Take it to a GP surgery or pharmacy and they may reject it since there will be a cost for disposal and it is unlikely that this will be covered by the CCG (successor to the PCT). So too if you seek to drop it off at the local hospital. The option arises to call your local disposal company who may be unprepared to arrange with a one-off collection.

That leaves the Local Authority. A free collection will be unlikely since for home-based patients Local Authorities will generally insist first on agreed CCG funding for collections. A trade collection if the only remaining option. This is the correct route, since it will be available in every Authority region, offered mainly for small commercial producers such as cosmetic piercers and tattoo parlours. A small charge will apply, per bin collected.

This is an increasing, and significant challenge for gyms and gym users, for the safety of gym staff and gym users, and more generally for the wider public health. It must be accommodated by the disposal sector and others, to ensure safe disposal of used injection equipment. What happens to waste classification, when Joe Public can got to Amazon and buy a purple-lidded sharps bin for £3.49, perhaps gift wrapped too, is another question entirely.




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