Do you have questions about how to safely dispose of prescription medication? Or maybe you’re wondering if those expired pills are still safe to take?

The information in our Frequently Asked Questions section has the answers you’re looking for.

What is a sharp?

A sharp is a medical term for devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut the skin. Examples of sharps may include:

  • Needles – hollow needles used to inject drugs (medication) under the skin
  • Syringes – devices used to inject medication into or withdraw fluid from the body
  • Lancets, also called “fingerstick” devices – instruments with a short, two-edged blade used to get drops of blood for testing. Lancets are commonly used in the treatment of diabetes
  • Auto Injectors, including epinephrine and insulin pens – syringes pre-filled with fluid medication designed to be self-injected into the body
  • Infusion sets – tubing systems with a needle used to deliver drugs to the body
  • Connection needles/sets – needles that connect to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. This is generally used for patients on home hemodialysis

Why are sharps used in the home setting and outside of the hospital?

Sharps may be used at home, at work, and while traveling to manage the medical conditions of people or their pets, including, but not limited to, medical conditions relating to allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, and psoriasis.

Are there safety engineered sharps available to patients and caregivers that address the potential for needlestick injuries?

Safety engineered sharps have controls that are built into the product and prevent sharps injuries. Safer sharps devices come in various types. For example, a common feature is to contain a protective shield over the needle. All traditional sharps devices have safer alternatives that are highly effective in substantially reducing injuries. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what options exist for the specific type of sharp you use.

Should patients reuse sharps instead of properly disposing?

A new sharp should be used every time to reduce harm to your skin and for greater comfort. For sharps that are used to deliver drug, such as a syringe or pen needle, healthier skin can lead to more consistent drug absorption and increased confidence.

Why is it important to properly contain and dispose of my sharps?

Patients who self-inject in the home, at work or while traveling should place equal importance on proper containment and disposal of their home generated sharps as other parts of their overall treatment plan.  Sharps used to enable self-management could cause injuries to those in the community if the sharps waste is not properly disposed of by patients. However, with an increase in innovation in sharps products, available data suggests that the likelihood of sharps injuries occurring continues to remain very low even with the increase in sharps users.

How can I properly contain my sharps?

Consumers should NEVER dispose of their household sharps by throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet. Instead, used sharps SHOULD BE immediately placed in a sharps disposal container.  In general, sharps containers are puncture and leak resistant and keep the sharp contained. FDA-cleared sharps containers (i.e. Red boxes and needle clipping devices) are easy to find and available at your local distribution sites, pharmacies, medical supply companies, healthcare providers and online.     

Examples of FDA cleared sharps containers include:

  • Red Boxes
  • Sharps clippers

LA County Sheriff’s Office

Sharps Brochure

S.A.F.E. Collection Centers throughout the County

What if I don’t have an FDA-cleared sharps container?

A wide variety of cost-effective and safe sharps disposal containers are easy to find and available for purchase at nationwide retail, supermarket and online pharmacies that align with both federal and specific state guidance on safe and effective sharps disposal. Sharps containers may also be available from your local distribution sites, doctor, hospital, health insurance, or medical supplier.

LA County Sheriff’s Office

Sharps Brochure

Are approved sharps containers reimbursed?

Sharps containers may be available from your local distribution sites, doctor, hospital, health insurance, or medical supplier. To date, Medicare payment is not available sharps disposal solutions in the home.

Are there benefits to using needle clipping technology? Where can I purchase a sharps clipper?

A needle clipper provides a convenient, portable way to clip off a syringe needle or pen needle and safely retain the needles within the clipping device. These devices can be used with a wide variety of needle lengths and gauges, and safely contain up to 1,500 clipped needles (approximately a 1-year supply for many patients). Needle clippers are available for purchase at nationwide retail, supermarket, and online pharmacies. Note that needle clippers, while a good option for some sharps, may not work on all possible sharps.

According to a determination made by the California Department of Public Health in 2015, a clipped sharp can now be managed as regular household waste, thereby reducing the amount of household hazardous waste on the waste management system and requiring the patient to dispose of their medical waste less frequently.

How do I properly dispose of my sharps?

If using a clipper, once you have clipped the needle from the pen device or syringe, you can dispose the remaining device in the household trash.  Manage the sharps clipper like all other sharps  containers.

There are a number of ways to safely dispose of the sharps containers.  When the sharps disposal container is about three-quarters full, follow your community waste guidelines for disposing of the container. These guidelines vary depending on where you live. Local trash collection departments or health departments may have information about sharps disposal programs. In general they include:

  • Drop boxes: Collection sites are located at doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health clinics, police or fire stations, and medical waste facilities that offer this service.
  • Hazardous waste sites: Public collection sites for hazardous materials (e.g., paints, cleaners and motor oil) may also accept sharps containers.
  • Residential pickup programs: Some communities have pickup services for waste that includes sharps containers.
  • Mail-back programs: Many sharps manufacturers also manufacture sharps containers approved to be sent through the mail by the U.S. Postal Service. The label on the container should have information on how to mail certain FDA-cleared sharps disposal containers to a collection site for proper disposal.
  • At-home needle destruction devices: Many manufacturers sell devices that will sever, burn, or melt the needle, rendering it safe for disposal. For more information, check with your pharmacist or health care provider.

A comprehensive list of Los Angeles County sharps disposal sites and events.

LA County Sheriff’s Office

Sharps Brochure