While EpiPens are life-savers, they, unfortunately, expire anywhere from 12-18 months. That being said, there are certain precautions that must be taken when disposing of this medication.
Because of the needle, EpiPens are considered both a ‘sharp’ and medication, so it is necessary that they are disposed of at a hospital, doctor’s office, pharmacy, or other location with a sharps disposal bin. Recycling is not an option, and keeping or reusing it is not recommended.
Because they fall into the category of both sharps and medication, there are specific procedures that need to be followed in order to correctly dispose of an EpiPen so nobody gets hurt.
If your EpiPen auto-injector is expired, it has to be disposed of. This is due to the key ingredient epinephrine deteriorating over time. After expiration the device becomes ineffective, this is why EpiPens can not typically be reused after expiration because the medication in it becomes inactive. Because it is a one-time use device, there are no options for refilling it. However, due to the drastic increase in the price of EpiPens, some healthcare workers and patients sought to find a better option than having to replace the device every year.
There is a medical doctor in Maine named Dr. Cathleen London who researched other options and found a way to create a similar injector device. What she did was make a product that was exactly like the EpiPen but it was capable of being drained and refilled. To avoid contamination she was the only person who would refill the medication. Although this idea and execution are not widespread, hopefully, it is the start of a more affordable and less wasteful option.
Even though your expired EpiPen is most likely unused, recycling is not an option for this product. Sharps should never be recycled but most importantly, even though it is considered a device it is still also a medication, and those are not usually ever suggested to be recycled. There is also not much usage this product could bring as far as recycling goes. Hopefully one day the health care system will figure out a way to make the device reusable, recyclable, or refillable, but for now, the only real option for EpiPens is disposal.
The easiest way to dispose of an EpiPen would be to take it to a facility that has a sharps disposal bin. The only issue with this is that it is a lot easier to find a medication dropoff site than it is a place that accepts EpiPens because of the needle. Below is a link to a website that allows you to enter your zip code and select your preferred distance radius to find FDA-approved Sharps Containers near you. You can even find these containers for sale through places like a pharmacy, medical supply companies, or just online.
The easiest way to get rid of an EpiPen is to take it to your doctor’s office, the hospital, a pharmacy, or somewhere else that has a sharps drop-off location. However, it is never safe or recommended to just throw it away in your household trash or even the outside garbage bin. This is a safety issue because it can accidentally stab someone or even a pet.
When disposing of your EpiPen at whatever disposal site you choose it is recommended that you place the product in something to keep it safely stored. A plastic container seems to be the best option for this, as a bag has the potential to rip from the needle.
In doing research it seems that it is highly common for people to keep an expired EpiPen because they can not afford to get a new one every year. This is not recommended though; the whole reason they expire every 18 months is that the ingredient epinephrine deteriorates over time, eventually making the device and medication ineffective. However, both doctors and patients feel that if the consumer can not afford a new one annually, they could just keep their expired one. The thought process behind this is that something is better than nothing.
There was also a study done in 2015 that analyzed 35 expired EpiPens to test their retained concentration. In injectors up to 2 years past the expiration date, they still contained at least 90% of the dosage that it was supposed to be. The doctor that researched this warned that if the medication is anything other than clear and colorless it needs to be properly disposed of and is not fit for use. Although this study was great, It is still a risk to keep it especially if you think you will need to use it. The only valid reason to keep an expired EpiPen is if you can not afford a new one.
If you are going to use an EpiPen that has expired, you need to be aware that the medication within the Epipen may not work anymore. Again, this is very dangerous and not suggested. But you know what is best for you, so good luck!
The most important tip I can give is to call whatever place you plan to take your EpiPen. While it may seem that most doctor’s offices or hospitals should be equipped to take sharps for disposal, not all places like these accept them. It is in your best interest to call ahead of time to check so that you don’t end up having to waste any of your time or gas. Another aid in this is the previously provided website that you can use to look up sharp disposal places near you.
Another helpful tip for the future of your EpiPen is to make sure that it is never stored in extreme heat or cold, or exposed to any excessive sunlight or humidity. Research shows that incorrect storage of an EpiPen can actually cause it to deteriorate and expire faster than usual. For these reasons it should not be stored in a car or refrigerator, try to find a room temperature, dry and dark place.
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