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December 07, 2017

Pennsylvania Sheetz store installs blue lights in bathroom to ward off drug use

Public Health Opioids
Sheetz Store Sheetz/for PhillyVoice

One of 500 Sheetz locations.

Statistics released earlier this year underscore just how heavy a toll the nation's opioid epidemic has had on counties throughout Pennsylvania, where the state saw a 37 percent increase in overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016.

In western Pennsylvania, Westmoreland County has been among the hardest hit in recent years, recording 174 total drug overdose deaths in 2016 and 144 confirmed deaths as of the start of this month in 2017. Additional cases are awaiting the completion of toxicology reports.

To combat drug abuse inside one of its locations, the convenience-store chain Sheetz recently installed blue overhead lights in the restrooms, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Why? The theory is that the blue glow makes it difficult for drug users to locate a vein for injection.

Company officials said the store location at 325 Freeport St. in Parnassus is the only Sheetz to test out the blue-light system, which has been in place for about three months now.

“One of our highest priorities at Sheetz is creating a safe and secure environment for our customers and employees,“ Adam Sheetz, associate vice president of store operations, told TribLive.

Can blue lights in the bathrooms ultimately act as an effective deterrent to drug use? A 2013 study by the Harm Reduction Journal, conducted based on interviews with drug users, suggests the impact is minimal and might even be detrimental.

"While there was general agreement that blue lights do make injecting more difficult, a small number of participants were entirely undeterred by them," the study concluded. "Half would use a blue-lit washroom if they needed somewhere to inject urgently."

Many of those interviewed for the study perceived that the use of blue lights, rather than discouraging drug use, merely made injection more dangerous.

At a minimum, the step Sheetz has taken shows the increasing prevalence of the opioid epidemic in public life and explains why the federal government has declared it a public health emergency.