The Proper Way To Dispose of Your Used or Expired EpiPen

woman using epipen
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For anyone who has a food allergy, carrying an EpiPen can be common place.  Most often there are several in your home, one of two in your car, and of course the one you carry at all times. It is critical that it is one item you don't leave home without, as a precautionary measure that can ultimately save your life.  It is estimated that over 3 million people were prescribed an EpiPen in 2015 alone.

 With so many people carrying them, one would assume that people know how to dispose of them after its use or when they have expired.  However, it is a question that has stumped many people, who are not quite sure where to dispose of them.  Bottom line: 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, officially known as "epinephrine auto-injectors," include needles that are designed to be able to pierce human skin.  This sharp point is necessary so that the medication can act immediately for a person in need of epinephrine. 

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. When medication winds up in landfills they can leach into our groundwater, causing health problems for communities nearby.

 

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 or hospital 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.

Be sure to 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.

​Reviewed by Marlo Mittler, MS RD

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