Gas Station Debuts Blue Lights To Fight IV Drug Use In Restroom

By Keri Blakinger 12/11/17

Some believe the blue light may not actually deter those looking to use in the gas station restroom.

public restroom bathed in blue hue

A Pennsylvania gas station has installed blue lights as a way to keep people from shooting up in the bathroom—though it’s not clear that the glowing new deterrent will have the intended effect. 

Though it’s only attracting media attention now, the Pittsburgh-area Sheetz in New Kensington put in the blue lights about three months ago, and they might expand the light system to other locations if it proves successful, according to local reports. 

“I think it's safe to say that we, along with different operations such as ours, (have) definitely seen the impact of the heroin epidemic over the past several years,” Sheetz spokesman Nick Ruffner told Valley News Dispatch. “The blue light system makes it so that somebody who is looking to inject heroin or an opioid can't find their veins.”

But that may not actually work to keep users away—and could just force them to stay longer till they find a vein. 

“If they're going to shoot dope, it's not going to stop them,” said Tim Phillips, executive director of Westmoreland County's Drug Overdose Task Force. “You can find a vein just simply by feeling.”

A 2013 study in the Harm Reduction Journal looked at 18 participants who used drugs and found that the majority would avoid blue-lit bathrooms—but most would still get high there if given no alternative. Some said they’d look for blood in the needle, shoot up by “feel,” or bring a flashlight.

"It didn’t really make a difference for me,” one woman told researchers. “It’s almost like a challenge."

And there’s some concern that blue lights could just make drug use riskier for those already battling addiction. Some might leave to seek out seedier spots to shoot up—and others might stay and face a different set of risks.

"If they stay and inject under blue lights anyway, they increase their risk of injection-related complications such as skin and soft tissue infections," Alexis Crabtree at the University of British Columbia told Business Insider

The Sheetz that’s piloting the new lighting is in an area particularly hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. The 179 overdose deaths recorded by the end of November in Westmoreland County broke the record set by the previous year, when 174 people died of overdoses.

Adam Sheetz, the company’s associate vice president of Store Operations, sad the new lights are simply a measure to make the store safer for everyone. 

“One of our highest priorities at Sheetz is creating a safe and secure environment for our customers and employees,” he said.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.