How Do I Dispose of an Expired or Used EpiPen?

woman using epipen
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Whatever you do, don't just throw it in the trash! EpiPens are hazardous medical waste and need to be disposed of properly.

Why Is Improper Disposal So Dangerous?

EpiPens (also known by their official, very long title "epinephrine auto-injectors") obviously include needles that are designed to pierce human skin (if they didn't, they wouldn't work very well when we need them).

But because of this, these "sharps" pose a danger to unsuspecting family members and to sanitation workers who are emptying the garbage.

In addition, tossing unused medications into the trash usually means they'll wind up in a landfill. Medicines in landfills can leach into our groundwater, causing health problems for people downstream.

How to Dispose of Expired or Used Auto-Injectors

So, if you can’t throw your EpiPen away, what can you do with it?

First of all, make sure the device is kept inside its protective case. If you have used the auto-injector, return it to its case immediately to reduce the risk of someone else stabbing themselves with the exposed needle.

There are several options for safely disposing of medication and medical sharps, including expired epinephrine auto-injectors. These include:

  • The medical staff at your doctor's office or at a nearby hospital can dispose of expired or used auto-injectors safely with their other medical waste.
  • Some pharmacies now accept expired medications for disposal. Ask your pharmacy if it will take auto-injectors or if it participates in medical waste drives.
  • Some cities or counties have household hazardous waste collection programs that include medical waste. Contact your local sanitation department to find out if there is a drop-off site available near you.

Regulations about the disposal of medical sharps and expired medications vary from state to state.

To find out your state regulations for medical waste disposal, visit the federal Environmental Protection Agency website and click on your state.

Keeping Track of Your Prescription

Epinephrine is a very finicky drug. It expires quickly and can easily lose its effectiveness if left in a hot car or if it gets too cold. If the liquid inside your auto-injector is cloudy, you need a new EpiPen.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are made to last one year, the length of a typical prescription. Unfortunately, pharmacies often have a stock of auto-injectors that have been sitting on the shelf waiting to be dispensed, and meanwhile are getting closer and closer to their expiration dates. Sometimes pharmacies will dispense pens that are less than fresh.

Check the expiration date on your auto-injector when you first get your prescription. If it expires in less than a year, ask the pharmacist for a fresher one. You will need to check the expiration date on the actual injector to make sure it will last as long as your prescription is good.

I had an experience where I was prescribed an auto-injector in August, and found out later that the one I was given by the pharmacy expired in February — it was only good for six months. I had to go back and purchase a new one even though my prescription had not run out.

Write your auto-injector's expiration date on your calendar to remind you to get a refill. If you haven’t done this, check your auto-injector now to make sure it hasn’t expired, and that the liquid inside is still clear.

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