The Life of a Needle

How long can you use your diabetes sharps?

By Wil Dubois

There's a lot of diabetes happening in my house. I'm a type 1 and my wife is a type 2. One Saturday morning recently she drifted into the kitchen and said, "Hey, babe, I'm starting a new Byetta pen. Should I move the old needle over to it, or put a new one on?"

"Well, that depends on how long you've been using the needle," I said.

There was a long hesitation. A hint of a shadow flitted across her dark eyes.

"Ah…. How long have you been using it?" I finally asked.

She shrugged one shoulder. "It's the same one you put on when you showed me how to use the pen."

My head crunched the math. "You used the same needle all month?"


"Sixty shots?" I asked, shocked. I run the diabetes education and treatment program for a rural nonprofit health center. I've seen needle use stretched out quite a bit, but right here under my own roof was a new record.


"Well, OK then, I think you can change it now, Hon," I told her, recovering my wits. "We got our money's worth out of that needle."  (Note: the retail cost of a pen needle is 22¢)

So, OK, I confess that was an extreme case of needle use. And my lovely bride tells me that she never noticed any pain using an arguably over-used needle. But how many times could you use a needle? How many times should you use a needle? And what about those little lancets that you use to poke your finger? Can they be stretched too?

In short, how long can you, or should you, stretch the life of all the pokey things we use to break our skin with? When do you risk losing their effectiveness? At what point does stretching the life of your sharps put you in danger? What kind of danger does that put you in?

But before we dig into the nitty-gritty details, we should back up for one quick second and ask the bedrock question: Why would you want to use a needle over and over and over? And there are only two answers I can think of: money and, frankly… laziness.

But we all do it. Some of us stretch how long we use our sharps because we can't afford not to stretch. Either our insurance is poor or the part of the burden we carry is too high for the family budget. And some of us stretch how long we use our sharps because swapping out those little things as often as we should takes time. And time is in short supply too. And you know, come to think of it, there is a third reason for stretching the length of use of our sharps.

Gimmie a minute here.

I'm trying to come up with a polite word for "paranoid."

Well… Darn. No luck. OK, so bluntly put, while most of us with diabetes are grateful to the various companies that supply us, I think that there's also a degree of suspicion that they might just be more concerned about their bottom line than they are concerned about our health.


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Last Modified Date: May 01, 2014

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