How to Dispose of Expired Insulin (the right way)

Life with diabetes can be rather tricky. You will need to regularly monitor your blood sugar levels, keep an eye on your food’s carb count, and follow a strict diet.

Another essential part of living with diabetes is insulin injections. Since your body is no longer able to produce the hormone in sufficient amounts, it requires some external help to maintain your blood sugar level.

Along with insulin injections comes another vital aspect, proper disposal. Like any other medication, you will need to be careful of how to dispose of expired insulin.

Moreover, you’ll have to ensure the sharps (like needles and insulin pens) are stored and disposed of safely. Here is everything you should know.

Is Your Insulin Expired?

People often struggle with insulin usage and storing since it comes with special conditions. How many times have you used barely half of an insulin bottle, only to find out it’s expiring tomorrow? This can feel quite wasteful, especially considering the growing market prices and the low availability.

If you want to double-check whether your insulin is really expired before disposing of it off, there are two things to look out for.

  1. These pointers have been confirmed by insulin manufacturers.
    • The first is the printed expiration date on your insulin vial. This is when the insulin is safe for use, as long as it is kept refrigerated at the recommended temperatures.
    • Secondly, you should keep in mind the amount of time passed since you first opened the insulin vial or pen. Generally, insulin works for around 28 days after it has been opened, with a few types lasting over 40 days.

How to Dispose of Expired or Unused Insulin Vials

By now, you’ve probably ensured that your insulin is expired and needs to be disposed of. If this is the case, you will need to learn the proper disposal procedure for insulin.

Follow these steps for quick and easy yet safe disposal of expired insulin at home. PS. You can follow the steps given below for any other prescription medication or off-the-counter drugs, liquids drops, or even medicated creams.

  1. Step 1 – Remove the insulin from its original container and mix it up with something unpleasant like coffee grounds. This makes it unattractive to children or pets, and they aren’t likely to grab it from the disposal bin. Remember, children and pets tend to rummage through boxes to find ‘treasure.’ This step ensures that they don’t get their hands on expired insulin.
  2. Step 2 – Put this mixture in something that you can close properly and will not tear apart. A re-sealable zipper or disposable container works well. It will ensure the insulin doesn’t leak out to create a mess.
  3. Step 3 – Throw this container in the trash bin.
  4. Step 4 – Go back to the original container and remove any stickers or labels that may have your personal information. Most insulin containers will have your identity or number printed on them. Remove this safely before throwing the container away.

Additionally, there are some more options you can consider as well. Keeping in mind the ever-growing insulin shortage and availability crisis going on in the country, your unused insulin can be put to good use.

Several doctors stand by the fact that even expired insulin can be used by people with diabetes. It may not be as effective, but it’s better than not having the hormone at all.

If you have expired or unused insulin lying around, consider one of the options mentioned below. Not only will you ensure the hormone isn’t wasted away, but you could potentially be saving a life!

Donate to Doctors or Nearby Health Clinics

Although most health clinics will not accept opened or expired insulin vials, some just might. Most people reject the donations of opened insulin vials as there is uncertainty regarding how it was used and the date it was opened.

However, you should still try to call up clinics and doctors nearby and ask if they would be willing to accept it.

Different clinics have different insulin policies, and if there is an urgent need, they probably will take in your unused insulin.

Send it off to the Local Animal Hospital

Vet clinics and animal healthcare establishments may also accept unused or even expired insulin, depending on their policies.

Find a Private Hand-off

Lastly, you can consider a private hand-off to ensure the insulin isn’t wasted away. There is currently a growing black market for insulin in the United States, leaving many diabetes patients unable to afford the hormone.

This is why several communities have come together to regularly donate and exchange different types of insulin from one another.

While this may not be the perfect solution to this grave problem, it still gets insulin vials to people in need – and that is what’s most important.

You can find out more about how private hand-offs work through Twitter. Just look up the #insulin4all hashtag, and you’ll find hundreds of requests for insulin nearby.

Disposing of the Insulin Pen

People often prefer using insulin pens as they come with an autoinjector which makes the process easier. However, these pens do have the potential to cause injury if they aren’t handled properly.

Once you’ve used your insulin pen and need to discard or replace it, be sure to keep it in your sharps container.

You will also need to ensure that the sharps container is sealed and cannot be accessed easily.

Always Discard with the Pen Cap On

Remember that your insulin pen comes with a needle attached to it. That’s why you should always dispose of your insulin pen with the cap on.

This eliminates any risk of needle exposure to others and prevents accidents.

Please place it in your sharps container, and keep in mind that insulin pens or needles can’t be recycled.

Subscribe to a Mail-Back Program

Autoinjector pens can often be sent to mail-back programs for disposal.

You will simply need to mail the injector in a special container, and it will be disposed of safely.

Other Factors to Consider Besides the Expiration Date

While the expiry date is the best determinant of whether your insulin is still safe for use or not, there are some other factors you should keep in mind as well.

Expiration dates only apply to insulin bottles or vials that haven’t been opened or unsealed. Moreover, they need to be stored under the right conditions in your refrigerator for the expiration date to be viable.

If the insulin is left at room temperature for too long, or the bottle has been opened for some time now, it will no longer work effectively. These inappropriate storage conditions result in the hormone losing its strength or even becoming completely unable to regulate your blood sugar levels.

It would help if you made it a practice to dispose of any insulin bottles opened beyond the recommended time of use. Also, be sure to get rid of any vials left out of the refrigerator for an extended time.

A smart practice to take on is labeling your insulin vials with the date you first opened them. This will help you keep track and determine by when to use the insulin safely.

Be sure to go over the original packet’s instructions and discuss with your diabetes specialist to confirm safe use. They are best informed on how long you can use the insulin after opening or keeping it at room temperature.

These rules are particularly important for people who use prefilled insulin pens or insulin cartridges. So, pay heed to the fine print and be mindful of the dates.

Safety Precautions for Your Loved Ones

Even if you’ve taken great precautions in handling the expired insulin and any sharps associated with it, there are still chances of accidents happening.

It would be best if you were prepared if a child, pets, or any other people in the household get struck with your used needles.

Here are the steps to follow if such an incident occurs.

  1. Immediately remove the needle and place it safely in your sharps container.
  2. Wash the exposed area with soap and warm water, then go over it with a skin disinfectant like hand sanitizer or even rubbing alcohol from your first aid box.
  3. Call your primary healthcare provider and set up an appointment for a thorough checkup and any further tests required.

Final Words

Now you have all the information you need about how to dispose of expired insulin and the needles or pens associated with it. You also know the right steps to take if an accident occurs and how to tell if your insulin is still safe to use.

Be diligent when applying this knowledge and incorporate it as a part of your healthcare routine.

Do your best to ensure that the insulin vials are always stored under safe conditions and disposed of properly, and you’re good to go!

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