Students who use injection medications on campus are often faced with a difficult conundrum: do they throw their used needles into campus garbage cans, posing a health risk to custodial staff, or do they transport them across the campus until they can get rid of it safely, at risk? accidentally sting yourself or others in the process?

Neither option is the right way to dispose of needles and syringes; the Food and Drug Administration recommends storing used hypodermic needles in designated sharps containers, hard plastic boxes sold at pharmacies and medical supply stores. Waterproof containers, which should be taken to designated collection sites, help prevent accidental contact with used needles.

But personal sharps containers are unaffordable for some students, while others, especially those who have recently started taking injections, may not even be aware of proper needle disposal protocols.

This is why some colleges have installed containers on campus, mainly in bathrooms, to allow students to dispose of their needles safely and conveniently.

Central College, a small private institution in Iowa, has had needle receptacles in high-traffic areas of campus for about six years. Locations include bathrooms in the student center, dining center, residence hall, and other locations on campus.

Administrators say it has proven to be an effective resource for students and the boxes are generally ticking.

“I’ve never had a student ask for another location,” said Melissa Sharkey, assistant dean of students. “We know they’re in the right places because they’re used. There are sharp objects in each container.

Although some schools have installed sharps boxes specifically to address issues with the disposal of unsafe or sloppy needles, Sharkey said Central has never faced such issues. Installing the containers “was the right thing to do for our students and our community to keep them safe,” she said.

Some colleges and universities that do not have disposal boxes in bathrooms provide students with individual FDA-approved plastic boxes free of charge, usually through the health center or residence halls. Students who do not have access to proper disposal containers often use hard plastic containers, such as empty laundry detergent bottles, as an alternative.

Diabetic students who regularly inject insulin may need a safe way to get rid of needles the most. People with type 1 diabetes often inject insulin at least twice a day and may need four or more injections. This means that most students with diabetes who take full courses will need to regularly inject insulin on campus.

Molly Johannes, community engagement manager for Diabetes Link, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting young people with diabetes, noted that students can encounter uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations when they do not have access or do not know the safe ways to dispose of their needles.

She recalled the story of a college student who put her used needles in the trash can in her dorm, which resulted in her roommate being injured by a needle when she took out the trash.

“If someone doesn’t have safe places to put their needles, it creates all kinds of risks,” Johannes said.

accidental needle sticks

Kendra Bass, a senior with type 1 diabetes at Indiana University in Pennsylvania, didn’t know what to do with her used needles when she started taking full-time classes on campus. His university has needle boxes in many bathrooms in newer buildings, but the building where most of his classes were held had only a few boxes, and some were broken. Initially, she resorted to throwing used needles in her backpack and ended up getting stung more than once while emptying her bag at the end of the day. Then she dedicated a single pocket in her backpack to needles, hoping to avoid stabbing herself, but the needles ended up gouging holes in the fabric.

“I found it very annoying and frustrating carrying them around throughout the day,” she said.

These days, she uses DIY disposal containers — usually old peanut jars — to hold her needles, but hopes that with the construction of new buildings on campus, public sharps boxes will become even more common. common at the IUP.

Transgender students who take hormone injections also use the boxes to dispose of needles. Although they tend to take hormones much less frequently than diabetics take insulin – usually a handful of times a month – it is still helpful for them to have access to public disposal containers. needles.

For one, it can help students keep their medical information private, which may not be an option if they request or purchase a sharps box at the health center.

“The easy-to-find resources are specifically needle exchanges,” said Steph DeNormand, trans health program manager for Fenway Health, a Massachusetts-based LGBTQ+ healthcare organization. And these “seem to be more focused on injection drug users,” which creates a stigma around their use, said DeNormand, who uses the pronouns them/them.

Because of this and other privacy issues, such as people not wanting to come out as transgender, “having public access to medical waste disposal…would help to either alleviate or remove the problem of having to ask for a disposable trash can,” they said. .

Bass agrees that trash cans in bathrooms can help maintain privacy; although she doesn’t mind taking her insulin in public at IUP, a small institution where most students and staff know her, she can understand why some people might be more comfortable taking their medications and to throw away their needles in private.

“When I was first diagnosed, I was very shy about giving myself insulin. I had to do it through a pen, and it was a very obvious procedure that I had to track, and it was scary and I was getting people to stare at me and give me weird looks,” said Bass, who also authored a blog post for the Diabetes Link about needle disposal. having in the bathroom is extremely practical and pleasant and also helps everyone to feel more comfortable.”

Although needle disposal boxes on college campuses are usually for students who need to inject drugs, they have also been set up in cities across the country to encourage recreational drug users to get rid of properly with needles rather than dropping them in public areas. Public disposal boxes are less controversial than free needle exchange programs, where individuals can drop off used needles and get new ones, which opponents say condones illegal drug use, increases the crime and creates waste.

“It’s become a public danger, and the point is, we shouldn’t create more public danger around addiction,” said West Virginia Sen. Eric Tarr, who sponsored a bill banning trading syringes in 2021. “The effort was valiant and I understand that, but it’s a failed experiment and it has to go.

Johannes said it’s not hard to convince college administrators to put needle disposal containers on campus. In his experience, most university centers for people with disabilities have agreed to help coordinate the installation of containers to support students who consider them an important accommodation for people with disabilities.

“We encourage all students with diabetes to advocate for their needs,” she said. “It goes towards building that safe relationship between the student and the rest of the school and the rest of the community.”