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San Mateo County Times Op-Ed: Safe needle disposal is a shared responsibility

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

by Betty Lipkin, Guest commentary

I’VE BEEN a recycler for years. My son (now 39-years-old) learned his basic colors as a toddler by helping me sort bottles by color for recycling.

That commitment and concern hasn’t changed for me, even though living with multiple sclerosis for the past 13 years has changed everything else in my life.

While MS makes it impossible for me to do my former work as a software release manager, my interest and concern for the environment and my fellow human beings hasn’t diminished.

It concerns and troubles me greatly that I don’t have a safe place to dispose of the needles I use to self-inject medication prescribed by my doctors to help control MS.

It seems crazy that it is against California law to put sealed “sharps” containers in the trash, but there’s very little information or help for people such as me to safely and legally dispose of these dangerous wastes.

I know these used needles are hazardous wastes. If they end up in a municipal waste stream, they put waste collection and recycling workers at risk of contracting a range of serious diseases, such as hepatitis or HIV.

If those workers have to start treatment after a needle “stick,” they face six months and more of tremendous anxiety.

When a friend told me I could propose a new law as part of state Sen. Joe Simitian’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, I wanted to give it a try.

Simitian’s Senate Bill 486 is now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature. The bill says that pharmaceutical companies that sell and market medications to me and others who routinely self-inject prescribed medicine at home, should be required to submit plans to the state describing how they support safe needle collection and disposal programs for patients using their drugs. And they should make this information available on their Web sites.

I’m angered and dismayed that some of the drug companies that sell me my medicine are fighting this bill. They say that safe disposal is my problem, not theirs.

I have always wanted to do right by this planet and to others. I don’t want to hand the planet over to my children and grandchildren in worse condition than it was in when I inherited it. I want to do my bit. I just ask that the drug companies help me and others by doing their part as well.

I urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign this common sense measure.

Betty Lipkin is a San Carlos resident who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996. She worked as a software release manager until 2001, when the challenge of living with MS forced her out of the workforce.

Read the full op-ed on the San Mateo County Times website