While insulin pens are convenient, accurate, and user-friendly devices for the effective management of diabetes, their improper use can put their users at risk for various infections.
Due to this, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about the health risks involved in sharing insulin pens.
The CDC warning was issued in the light of the growing incidents where patients are put at risk by the reuse and sharing of insulin pens.
Below is an excerpt of the warning found on the CDC website.
CDC Clinical Reminder: Insulin Pens Must Never Be Used for More than One Person
Insulin pens are pen-shaped injector devices that contain a reservoir for insulin or an insulin cartridge. These devices are designed to permit self-injection and are intended for single-person use. In healthcare settings, these devices are often used by healthcare personnel to administer insulin to patients. Insulin pens are designed to be used multiple times, for a single person, using a new needle for each injection. Insulin pens must never be used for more than one person. Regurgitation of blood into the insulin cartridge can occur after injection  creating a risk of bloodborne pathogen transmission if the pen is used for more than one person, even when the needle is changed.
In 2009, in response to reports of improper use of insulin pens in hospitals, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert for healthcare professionals reminding them that insulin pens are meant for use on a single patient only and are not to be shared between patients . In spite of this alert, there have been continuing reports of patients placed at risk through inappropriate reuse and sharing of insulin pens, including an incident in 2011 that required notification of more than 2,000 potentially exposed patients . These events indicate that some healthcare personnel do not adhere to safe practices and may be unaware of the risks these unsafe practices pose to patients.
Clinical Reminders for Using Insulin Pens
The CDC has given recommendations on how insulin pens should be labeled, handled, and administered, particularly in hospitals and other health care facilities where they are used.
Anyone using insulin pens should review the following recommendations to ensure that they are not placing persons in their care at risk for infection.
- Insulin pens containing multiple doses of insulin are meant for use on a single person only, and should never be used for more than one person, even when the needle is changed.
- Insulin pens should be clearly labeled with the person’s name or other identifying information to ensure that the correct pen is used only on the correct individual.
- Hospitals and other facilities should review their policies and educate their staff regarding safe use of insulin pens and similar devices.
- If reuse is identified, exposed persons should be promptly notified and offered appropriate follow-up including bloodborne pathogen testing.
These recommendations apply to any setting where insulin pens are used, including assisted living or residential care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, health fairs, shelters, detention facilities, senior centers, schools, and camps as well as licensed healthcare facilities. Protection from infections, including bloodborne pathogens, is a basic expectation anywhere healthcare is provided. Use of insulin pens for more than one person, like other forms of syringe reuse , imposes unacceptable risks and should be considered a ‘never event’.
An insulin pen is intended for single-person use, and not to be shared with anybody. Just like traditional syringes, both reusable and disposable insulin pens can also be a means in spreading dread blood-borne diseases such as AIDS when shared or used improperly.