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article imageRetailers experimenting with blue lights to deter drug use

By Karen Graham     Jun 24, 2018 in Technology
Wilkes Barre - Colored bulbs cast an eerie blue glow in the restroom of a convenience store where people who inject heroin and other drugs have been seeking the relative privacy of the stalls to shoot up.
The blue lights are meant to discourage drug users from shooting up in store bathrooms because the blue glow from the light bulbs makes it harder for someone to see their veins when trying to inject a drug.
It's not a new idea, actually. It has been around for years and is now getting a fresh look because of the nation's rampant drug epidemic.
Read Hayes is a University of Florida researcher and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council (LRRC), a retail industry-supported group. The LRRC conducts research to develop crime and loss control solutions for the industry.
An estimated two million Americans are addicted to opioid drugs -- many forced to buy pills illegall...
An estimated two million Americans are addicted to opioid drugs -- many forced to buy pills illegally when prescriptions run out and some, in desperation, resort to heroin and synthetic opioids
Since its founding in 2001, the LRRC has conducted over 120 real-world loss prevention research projects for retailers and partners. The scope of these projects includes large-scale field experiments, the development of statistical models for shortage reduction, and a number of other projects. LRRC is now looking at the lights' effectiveness.
"The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot," said Hayes. The whole purpose of the blue light bulbs is to "disrupt that process" and force drug users to go somewhere else to use their drugs, he added.
One retailer participating in the experiment is Turkey Hill Minit Market, a 260-store chain based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It's one of two convenience stores and a supermarket chain working with LRRC to field-test the blue bulbs. Hayes says the while the field-testing is still in its infancy, the initial feedback from stores has been very positive, reports ABC News.
Police share photo of Erica Hurt  25  passed out with a syringe in her hand.
Police share photo of Erica Hurt, 25, passed out with a syringe in her hand.
Courtesy Hope Police Department
Questions over the use of blue light bulbs
According to CNBC, some earlier studies questioned the deterrent effect of blue light bulbs. People who use opioids told researchers they'd shoot up in blue light if it meant avoiding withdrawal symptoms.
Opioid users even have many health experts on their side. They say the blue light bulbs make people more likely to injure themselves and the lights stigmatize drug users in the grips of addiction.
Someone going through withdrawal who gets hold of some heroin is "going to want to use as soon as possible, even if the location is not optimal," said Brett Wolfson-Stofko at the National Development & Research Institutes, who has studied injection drug use in public bathrooms.
But store owners say they have to do something, and anything is better than finding someone dead of an overdose in the bathroom. Luzerne County Coroner William Lisman said people have died from overdoses in the public bathrooms of fast-food restaurants, big-box stores, and other retailers.
"It can very easily go unnoticed until somebody else wants to use that restroom," he said. "Other patrons realize they can't get in, the manager opens up and we find people deceased."
Early results of experiment are encouraging
Since Turkey Hill began using the blue light bulbs in 20 of its stores six months ago, "we're not finding hardly anything anymore," said Matt Dorgan, the chain's asset protection manager. "It's a pretty dramatic reduction. We haven't had a single overdose."
The city of Philadelphia - where overdose deaths surged more than 30 percent to 1,200 deaths last year has been issuing kits to residents that include 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.
It's already close to the end of June and the city has only given out 100 or so kits.
More about Drug use, retail stores, bathrooms, blue lights, Deterrent
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