Can Blue Lights Deter Public Drug Use?

By Paul Fuhr 06/27/18

Public health experts say the blue lights make people more prone to hurting themselves and further stigmatize those who struggle with addiction.

a gas station bathroom lit with blue bulbs
Photo via YouTube

As the nation struggles with an ever-worsening opioid epidemic, some retailers are experimenting with an innovative solution to curb the drug use that takes place in their facilities.

According to USA Today, a number of convenience stores and supermarkets have installed blue-colored lightbulbs in their restrooms. The strategy is simple; the blue lighting makes it all but impossible for people to see their veins, which retailers hope will prevent them from shooting up.

“The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot,” said Read Hayes, the director of the Loss Prevention Research Council.

The Council develops methods to deter theft and violent crime at retail stores. When it comes to drug users shooting up in the semi-privacy of public bathroom stalls, Hayes hopes to “disrupt that process” with the blue lights.

Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a Pennsylvania chain of convenience stores with over 260 locations, partnered with the Loss Prevention Research Council to test whether the blue bulbs will do the trick in driving down drug use. While the study is just six months old, early word from its 20 test stores has been positive.

Turkey Hill reports that employees haven’t found any used needles or people slumped over from an overdose. Matt Dorgan, Turkey Hill’s asset protection manager, knew it was time to take action in neighborhoods that have been slammed by the opioid crisis.

“We realized we need to do something to protect our associates and our customers,” Dorgan said. “We’re not finding hardly anything anymore. It’s a pretty dramatic reduction. We haven’t had a single overdose.”

Not everyone is convinced that blue lights are the answer, however. In previous research studies, opioid users said they’d shoot up anywhere “if it meant avoiding withdrawal symptoms,” USA Today reported.

Public health experts also say the blue lights only make people more prone to hurting themselves, not to mention further stigmatizing those who struggle with addiction.

Also, people who are accustomed to injecting themselves won’t be deterred by a room bathed in blue light. Someone suffering from withdrawal “is going to want to use as soon as possible, even if the location is not optimal,” said Brett Wolfson-Stofko, a researcher at the National Development & Research Institutes, who has studied injection drug use in public places.

Other experts advocate for more practical solutions like needle disposal containers.

Meanwhile, some areas have taken the blue-light concept to new levels, USA Today reported. The city of Philadelphia, wracked by a 30% increase in opioid overdoses last year, has started distributing “needle kits” to its residents. The kit includes “a blue bulb for the front porch, no-trespassing signs, a tool to pick up used syringes, a needle disposal box and contact information for social services.”

The city has given out over 100 kits since January. If the kits prove successful, the program could be expanded and potentially become a solution for similarly hard-hit areas.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.