The Oklahoma City Area Division of Environmental Health Services and Pawnee Indian Health Center pharmacy department piloted a sharps mail-back program as an innovative approach to collect and discard used needles. Multiple community partners assisted with this program, including the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Oklahoma Meds and Sharps Disposal Committee, and Product Stewardship Institute.
More than 108,000 Oklahoma residents, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, use syringes and needles at home to manage various medical conditions such as diabetes. This generates 20-50 million used needles annually, in addition to the thousands obtained to inject controlled substances. Nationwide, 7% of needles are flushed in toilets, with an estimated three billion sharps disposed of as trash yearly. Flushing needles creates significant health and safety risks to residents, sanitation workers, sewage treatment plant operators, waste management personnel, and hospitality workers. It can also put communities at risk of infectious diseases when needles are disposed of in public areas such as parks and beaches. Safe syringe and needle take-back programs are an effective harm reduction strategy; however, the laws in Oklahoma do not allow for the operation of syringe services programs.
Through the sharps mail-back program, patients at the Pawnee Indian Health Center were given a sharps container with prepaid mailing instructions, along with education on sharps safety. To date, a total of 10 1.4-quart and 60 1-gallon sharps container kits have been distributed. While it’s too early to determine the amount of sharps collected from this pilot project, it has certainly increased community awareness of the need for safe sharps disposal. Multiple patients and staff expressed appreciation for having the sharps mail-back program and asked if we were going to continue the program.
The Oklahoma City Area plans to expand this program and has been included as a site for an Environmental Protection Agency grant submitted by the Product Stewardship Institute.