Public restrooms: private, accessible, and hidden from surveillance. These are all things we want public restrooms to be for our own comfort. They’re simultaneously things that make public restrooms an ideal place for addicts to get that next hit. Business owners have been trying to solve the issue for decades. It’s how we get things like “For Customers Only” signs and eery blue lights in public restrooms.
So What if Addicts are Using in Restrooms?
Sure, it mars the ambiance and experience if some homeless addict stumbles through the establishment on a mission to shoot up in the bathroom. But is it a real problem beyond that? I mean, if a customer wants their shiny, smooth dining/shopping experience intact, shouldn’t they be looking for a place where the restrooms are labeled “Powder Rooms” in beautiful calligraphy and the customer themself is not at all a customer but rather a guest?
Enter: biological hazards.
Tarnished ambiance is not the issue here. Although, it’s definitely not something any business would voluntarily tolerate. The real concerns for business owners are the biological hazards that accompany drug use.
Public restrooms may be ideal private spaces for addicts to use, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe for drug use. (I.e. There are no bio hazard needle boxes, disposable gloves, or industrial chemicals designed specifically for blood). Without these things, using in public bathrooms becomes exponentially less safe for both the addict and the average customer.
Blood splatters are likely to carry other diseases, especially if the addict is an intravenous drug user. And someone — whether it be the janitor, manager, or a do-gooder customer — is inevitably going to be picking up used needles. Joshua Gerber, a coffee house owner in the busy Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts, even removed the dropped ceilings in his bathroom after finding needles and drugs stashed in the tiles. He also reveals that he and his employees have found addicts on the bathroom floor not breathing.
“In an ideal world, users would have safe places to go [where] it didn’t become the job of a business to manage that and to look after them and make sure that they were OK.”
The Logic of Blue Lights in Public Restrooms
Business owners have been trying many tactics to reduce drug use in their public restrooms. However, once addiction takes over, a user’s only priority is to achieve that next high. So addicts will typically find ways around these security measures faster and more easily than efforts were to install them. Coded locks on public restroom doors just mean the addict will wait for a customer to go inside and come back out so they can grab the door. And requiring proof of purchase to use a bathroom is moot when a user can simply grab a receipt from the trash.
One of the newer measures businesses have attempted is installing blue lights in public restrooms.
Initially, installing blue lights in public restrooms doesn’t seem like it would do much to deter addicts from using. Blue lights also make it harder for your average patron to see what they’re doing while they do their business.
But the logic is that blue lights make it nearly impossible for users to find their veins and shoot up.
Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a chain of convenience stores in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, installed blue lights in bathrooms in 20 of its 260+ locations. Some Starbucks stores in Philadelphia have also recently joined the efforts, installing blue lights in their restrooms.
Are Blue Lights Causing More Danger?
You may have picked up on a huge red flag here if you’ve made it this far. Hint: I’ve said it before. Achieving that next high is an addict’s only priority.
Installing blue lights in public restrooms may reduce drug use on-site. Many addicts won’t want to take the time to fight through the deterrent. The addict is still in danger, as they’ll simply go somewhere else to use. But the business will be fine. However, if an addict is desperate enough to use in that ideal isolated location (read: blue-lit Starbucks bathroom), they will do just that. And if an addict decides to tolerate the blue lights, they’re very likely to accidentally inject in muscle instead of veins or even resort to injecting in feet, which is much less sanitary and much more likely to cause infection, disease, or other complications.
Blue lights don’t just cause more danger for an addict who decides to proceed. They’re also dangerous for customers who don’t see as well.
So, installing blue lights in public restrooms may be a way to reduce on-site drug use. But it’s definitely not a fool-proof, fix-all plan. Average customers have to struggle to walk and do their business in dim, eerie lighting. And addicts are either pushed to use in much less sanitary and more dangerous locations or they’ll proceed under blue lights anyway, likely causing more harm to themselves.