An old school solution is being considered for widespread use as a deterrent to a current-day problem. The relative privacy of a bathroom stall in a retail store is attractive to someone who wants to shoot up heroin or some other illegal drug. In an effort to deter drug users from this practice, retailers are experimenting with installing blue lights in their bathrooms. CBS News explains that the blue glow makes it more difficult for a user to find their blue veins and just may make it more difficult for them to find a place to shoot up. It’s an idea that’s been around for a while but has never been given serious consideration. The current opioid epidemic is changing that.
The Loss Prevention Research Council is supported by the retail and is examining the effectiveness of blue lights for this purpose. Read Hayes is the group’s director and a University of Florida researcher. So far he thinks it’s a viable option. “The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot,” he says. It’s currently being tested in two convenience store chains and a supermarket chain. Feedback from those stores has been positive thus far.
Critics of the method say it makes it more likely that a drug user will hurt themselves, and opioid users say they would shoot up under blue lights if they had to in order to avoid withdrawal. If they need a fix urgently, they’ll do it wherever they have to do it. Or they would find a way around the blue lights.
Retailers remain supportive of the effort though because, they say, something has to change. People are dying in public bathrooms in retail stores. There have even been cases where retail employees find someone bent over a public sink, dead of an overdose. Matt Dorgan, Turkey Hill’s chain’s asset protection manager, says, “We realized we need to do something to protect our associates and our customers.” In addition to the blue lights, Turkey Hill stores added brighter exterior lighting, new window signage that makes it easier to see the outside of the building when you’re inside, and security training for employees a little more than six months ago. Dorgan says that in that time, they haven’t had a single overdose, and drug activity is down drastically.
The blue light idea has expanded beyond retailers. In Philadelphia, overdose deaths rose by over 30 percent last year to an astounding 1,200. In January they started giving out kits for residents to use in their homes. Those kits include a blue light for their front porch, no-trespassing signs, tools for picking up any used syringes they find on their property, a box for disposing of the needles, and the phone number for social services. They’ve given out over 100 of the kits so far.