December 9, 2012

Medical sharps can be disposed of safely

Letter to the Editor

This fall, tens of thousands of Mainers learned that used household medical sharps, such as needles, can be disposed of along with household trash if they are secured in a puncture-proof container.

That increased awareness was initiated by the good work of the Legislature's Environment Committee and thoughtfully implemented by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection under Commissioner Patricia Aho's leadership. This was an unprecedented partnership with public health officials, the committee and medical technology, pharmaceutical and solid waste industry leaders to educate sharps users about safe disposal, given existing resources and regulations.

The initiative included the distribution of 40,000 educational brochures largely through pharmacies; a direct mailing to 7,000 MaineCare sharps users; the launch of an informational website at www.maine.gov/dep/sharps; an educational column to Maine media; and a statewide print advertising campaign -- mostly in weekly newspapers to stretch donated dollars.

Unfortunately, the stories published in the MaineToday Media's Nov. 25 and Nov. 27 papers undermines this important work and confuses the public into thinking that used household sharps can't be placed in the trash.

That's not true. While loose used sharps should never be tossed in the trash or toilet where they can cause accidental needle jabs, needles can be disposed of in household trash using a container that's affordable and appropriate for the user. That's been the point of our extensive, effective educational efforts around safe sharps disposal.

Medical conditions requiring home injections such as diabetes, arthritis and allergies can be overwhelming, but DEP and those who work with us will continue to ensure through education that the safe disposal of the sharps many Mainers use is manageable.

Samantha DePoy-Warren, director

Communications & Education,

Dept. of Environmental Protection

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