Perspectives on Pokes

As anyone with diabetes knows, managing it can be expensive — even with insurance. Because of this (and for convenience, as well), many people with diabetes reuse lancets[1] and syringes. A smart way to save money, or dangerous risk-taking? We asked seven people the same question:

What is your view on reusing lancets, pen needles, and syringes?

“Reusing is a fact of life. People do it. Just like everything else, you need to be smart and do it in moderation. For example, fine needles like 30g[2] can be safely used only twice, or maybe three times, without causing real problems. Thicker lancet needles can go longer. But don’t keep using the same one for days on end, please!”

Amy Tenderich, blogger, Diabetes Mine[3]; Type 1 diabetes for 4 years

“The availability of disposable medical goods such as lancets, needles, and syringes makes safety issues such as infection (skin infections, as well as the possibility of hepatitis, HIV, or even tetanus) easily overlooked and oftentimes taken for granted. It was not always like this. While infections and other risks of reuse may not be likely, it’s generally hard to rationalize reuse except for extraordinary circumstances or when there is no alternative (such as a medical emergency). My simple feeling is that it’s almost never worth taking these risks. Hopefully, patients and their families have the same perspective, but should they feel otherwise (reusing just for monetary reasons, for example), I hope they will feel comfortable enough to discuss this with their diabetes professional.”

Justin Indyk, MD, PhD, clinical fellow in pediatric endocrinology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

“I reuse lancets way too much! It’s a huge flaw, but I honestly never really think about changing them. My fingers have definitely paid the price, so I try to change the lancet every month or every other month. As far as syringes, I am on an insulin pump[4] so I don’t worry about that anymore. However, when I was on multiple daily injections, first with NPH and then with Lantus, I definitely reused needles. I reused them about two to three times because I didn’t like to carry around a huge bucket of needles, so I’d keep two or three with me instead of six or nine. I could reuse them a few times but then they would become too dull to push into my skin. I think reusing lancets is easier and less painful because of the ejection motion that helps pierce the skin.”

Allison Blass, blogger, Lemonade Life[5]; Type 1 diabetes for 15 years

“People with diabetes reuse lancets and syringes all the time, which seems pretty reasonable. However, the more someone reuses a lancet or syringe, the greater the discomfort, as the tip gets dull. Also, you shouldn’t wipe the lancet or needle with alcohol because that will remove the silicone coating and increase discomfort. It’s not a good idea to reuse lancets or syringes when one is ill, has an infection, or has cuts or sores on their hands. As far as insulin pen needles go, while some people do reuse them without any difficulty, there’s the possibility that with reuse, the right amount of insulin[6] may not get delivered.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, manager of clinical education programs, Joslin Diabetes Center; blogger, Diabetes Self-Management Blog[7]

“I haven’t had much of a chance to reuse syringes since I switched to pumping, but I had been known to use the same syringe once or twice only in a pinch. Reusing lancets is a whole different story. I try to change it out often, but ‘often’ translates out to about twice a week. There’s a joke among diabetics: ‘Change the clocks? Change your lancet!’ It’s an easy, albeit gross, habit to fall into. Even though doctors advise against reusing sharps like lancets and syringes, and even though I am aware of the risk of infection with reuse, I’m not great at following ALL the rules of diabetes.”

Kerri Sparling, blogger, Six Until Me[8]; Type 1 diabetes for 22 years

“As a long-timer with diabetes, I have personally developed a lot of bad habits, such as reusing lancets, needles, and syringes until they’re pretty dull. I have looked into the research on doing so, and assuming you bathe regularly and wash your hands, there does not appear to be a higher incidence of infections or other problems when you reuse these items. If you’re worried about it, pick a happy medium and use them only a couple of times. Myself, I prefer not to fill the landfills with more disposable medical waste than I have to.”

Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, professor of exercise science, Old Dominion University; Type 1 diabetes for 40 years

“Reusing lancets seems to be a widespread practice among many people with diabetes who test frequently (including me), driven in part by the inconvenience of disposing of used lancets safely when not at home. Unfortunately, our society does very little to facilitate the safe disposal of sharps in public spaces. Based on personal experience, there seems to be little risk in this practice. Also, there ARE scientific studies which have shown there is no adverse effect as long as the sharps are reused by the same individual and some general common sense is applied (obviously, a bent needle should not be reused). Reusing needles and syringes is more controversial and less widespread, and I believe it occurs most commonly with pen needles, less so with syringes. However, pen needles and syringes aren’t nearly as durable as lancets, and patient comfort may play a much bigger role in the decision not to reuse these items. These are my own opinions based on my interactions among people with Type 1 diabetes, particularly among ‘seasoned’ patients; newly diagnosed patients seem more likely to follow recommendations from doctors and educators.”

Scott Strumello, blogger, Scott’s Web Log[9]; Type 1 diabetes for 32 years

What do you think about reusing these items? Leave a comment below!

  1. lancets:
  2. 30g:
  3. Diabetes Mine:
  4. insulin pump:
  5. Lemonade Life:
  6. insulin:
  7. Diabetes Self-Management Blog:
  8. Six Until Me:
  9. Scott’s Web Log:

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