Pitt needs needle disposal containers


Image via Wikimedia Commons

A single-use sharps disposal container.

By Cammy Morsberger, For The Pitt News

Needle phobia is one of the most common fears in the American populace — affecting nearly 20 percent of the population — yet among the squeamish masses, more than 8 million Americans require daily injections to treat chronic conditions.

Among those afflicted by these conditions, which include diabetes, allergies, migraines, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, about 200,000 are under 20 years old. Unfortunately, facilities to dispose of these sharp waste products are extremely limited at universities across the country — including Pitt. So installing needle-disposal containers in Pitt’s public bathrooms is necessary to accommodate students who struggle with chronic conditions.

Most college students with Type 1 diabetes, for example, need injections several times a day just to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Khalil Eljamal, a sophomore industrial engineering major who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, has to carry his sharps container with him until he gets home to dispose of the container.

“I think sharps containers in public restrooms would be helpful,” he said. “If people are going into bathrooms to inject at work or school, it’s right there so there is less of a chance of the needles leaving the bathroom.”

According to the College Diabetes Network, 71 percent of diabetic college students report struggling with their condition in school. People like Eljamal must dispose of their sharps themselves using “sharps containers.”

Though fortunately for Eljamal, Pitt offers assistance to students who need help disposing of sharps.

“Should a student prefer, we can also accept the full sharps containers and dispose of them for the student,” Joe Miksch, director of media relations at Pitt, said in an email. “Also, our University Pharmacy can provide the necessary diabetes medications and supplies.”

This service provides free needle disposal — but it’s nowhere near the access science labs have to sharps disposal. Pitt, like Duquesne and CMU, already has sharps disposal containers in science laboratories through the environmental health and safety department on campus. Having a trained staff and warning labels can erase much of the risk, meaning installation is feasible if Pitt takes the right precautionary measures.

When waste containers for sharps are scarce, needles often end up in trash cans or toilets, posing an immense risk to sewage workers, janitors and essentially anyone who uses a public bathroom. The CDC estimated in 2011 that 17 million Americans were infected by improperly disposed medical waste. Injuries from needle pricks range from soreness to serious infections such as Hepatitis B/C and HIV — injuries that could be prevented by making disposal containers more widely available.

But according to Miksch, putting needle-disposal container Pitt’s public restrooms poses safety concerns, too.

“As for deploying sharps containers throughout campus, the potential health hazard makes this unfeasible,” he said.

Yes, containers could be dangerous — janitorial staff could mishandle their contents, or unlocked containers could injure students who use the bathroom.

But many public places are taking the right precautionary measures to guard against these incidents. These containers are common in airports, malls and other high-traffic locations so there’s no reason universities shouldn’t have them too. Sharps Compliance and Cardinal Health are two leading commercial providers in needle disposal bins. Both large-scale corporations are in compliance with all safety and medical regulations, so misuse is rare but also it often goes unreported.

Needle use in the United States is on the rise, including needle use related to injectable drugs as well as diabetes. Drug exchange programs, which offer unused needles to drug users, have seen an 18 percent increase in participants in the last decade. The CDC reported in 2008 that diabetes rates had risen 90 percent since the late ’90s. The frequency of opioid use among adults, including college students, has also increased, as has the rate of mortality due to opioids — and many drug-related illnesses are a result of sharing needles.

With needle use becoming more prevalent, it makes sense now more than ever for University officials to install disposal containers. It’ll aid students with various conditions and protect the rest of the student body from potentially dangerous sharps. And installing wall enclosures is not expensive either, since one sharps container, with the capacity to hold 5 quarts of discarded needles or syringes, only costs $38.

For now, diabetic students struggling to transition to college life can contact the College Diabetes Network — a nationwide organization that offers advice on dining hall eating, internships and an abundance of other useful information. And students at Pitt can always contact the University’s Student Health Service.

Pitt prides itself on being an inclusive environment, but inclusion also means accommodating students with illnesses.

Students with medical conditions overcome many obstacles to live like the rest of the student body — needle disposal should no longer be one of those obstacles.