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Re-Sharpening Needles

If you are a diabetic, and injecting yourself with insulin several times daily, a disaster can be very difficult. You may run out of insulin, or injectable needles. I would be cautious about throwing them away, if the disaster seems to be one of pro-longed duration.

You can have your physician prescribe a pack of needles and a non-disposeable glass syringe, if you like. These have fallen out of style lately, but are still available. A pack of new needles can also be used on a plastic-barrel syringe.

Normally needles are used "one time", but there is no reason why they cannot be re-used.

Of course they have to be sterilized. If you are going to re-use a tuberculin syringes I would wipe it with alcohol before replacing the cap for storage.

I cannot provide details to tell you how to keep the barrels sterile. If you are only injecting 10cc's and the unit is kept in a secure sealed container there is little chance the interior will be contaminated with bacteria. If in doubt you can always flush with 80 proof vodka.

Normally it takes 15 minutes of boiling to destroy bacteria, but the plastic barrels do not lend themselves well to autoclaving.

The syringe is initially sterile. You draw insulin from the bottle, which is also sterile. You inject. It is important NOT to pull back on the plunger (drawing contaminated air into the needle) but to store it with the plunger fully depressed.

A sealed sterile container to store the needles/springes will prevent contamination with household bacteria.

The most significant problem will be dulling, and small hypodermic needles can be re-sharpened with a small very fine arkansas stone.  Before we turned into a disposeable society, this used to be part of a nurses daily duties. After sharpening pull the needle back through sterile gauze to eliminate burrs. And wipe with alcohol.

Theoretically you should sterilize the interior of the barrel, but if you are injecting yourself, and store the needle.springe immediately this hardly seems necessary. If in doubt draw in 14-20cc of vodka (if you are injecting 10cc) vodka, leave it for ten minutes inside the syringe, and squirt it out.

So if you are diabetic, a sharpening stone should be among your emergency disaster supplies. A diabetic needle can be used a dozen times before it dulls to the point where it requires re-sharpening.
1 Answers
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Avatar universal
I have been reusing insulin syringes for a number of years with no problems at all.  I get mine free, but am affiliated with a dog rescue that cares for several severely diabetic dogs, so I can give them the new syringes I don’t need to use, thanks to this little procedure I developed:

You need:  Bottle of alcohol
                 Very fine whetstone, or sharpening stone (optional -- mine came from an old college dissecting kit)

-Open alcohol bottle, fill cap.
-Dip clean finger in alcohol from cap, apply to membrane on insulin bottle.
-Withdraw insulin into syringe, as usual.
-Dip clean finger in alcohol from cap, apply to injection site.
-Inject insulin, as usual.

-Withdraw alcohol from cap into syringe, past usual insulin amount.
-Squirt alcohol back into bottle, except for a couple of units.
    Squirt drop of alcohol onto stone, draw flat part of needle tip across stone.
    Repeat, or use circular motion to sharpen. Takes patience & practice.
    Draw flat part of needle across clean cloth to remove burr at tip.
-Point syringe upward, push plunger slowly; last bit of alcohol drips over needle (which also flushes away any tiny bits of metal left over from sharpening).
-Replace cap on needle
-Pour cap of alcohol back into bottle.

It takes a bit of practice to sharpen, getting the angle right and figuring out exactly where the flat part of the needle tip is located. Be patient.

The alcohol apparently removes the lubricant from the needle. I don’t think this is a big deal since any discomfort I’ve felt seems to be from the dulled needle, I believe, not any missing lubricant.  Occasionally, I think you just get unlucky and hit a nerve, even more likely if the needle is dull.  Regardless, I’ll give up a wee bit of comfort for a safer injection anyhow.  Maybe there's some substitute for alcohol?

I was using a needle for about 70-80 times before they changed brands on me.  Now generally the needle comes loose in the insulin bottle membrane after 35-50 uses. Still a worthwhile effort, I think.

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