New Kensington Sheetz tests anti-drug blue hue for restroom lights
No, there's nothing wrong with the lights in the restrooms at the New Kensington Sheetz. They're not your standard white or yellow. They're blue — dark blue — and that's the way they're supposed to be.
Despite their somewhat decorative appearance, the lights weren't put there to look pretty. They're there to deter drug use, Sheetz officials said.
“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 said. “The blue light system makes it so that somebody who is looking to inject heroin or an opioid can't find their veins.”
The store at 325 Freeport St. in Parnassus is the only Sheetz with a blue light system. It has been in place for three months, company officials said.
They said there is no time frame for the test period or expansion of the system, and it's too soon to know the full results of its use.
“We're testing this out at this one location,” Ruffner said.
Adam Sheetz, associate vice president of Store Operations at Sheetz, said the blue light system was designed to help customers and employees avoid dangerous situations.
“One of our highest priorities at Sheetz is creating a safe and secure environment for our customers and employees,“ Sheetz said.
The Sheetz is in Westmoreland County, which has seen a continuous rise in overdose deaths over the past nine years.
This year, the county set a record with 144 confirmed overdose deaths as of Dec. 1, with 35 suspected overdoses awaiting toxicology verification. The 179 deaths through November surpass the previous record of 174, set in 2016.
Gateway Rehab's medical director, Dr. Neil Capretto, said the system is an interesting concept that may have a slight impact on decreasing drug use in the bathrooms. However, he added, when drug users are in withdrawal and feeling sick, they are desperate.
Most are also very familiar with where their veins are, he said.
“(They) could probably find a vein with their eyes closed if they had to,” he said. “I am not sure if it is going to have a significant impact, but it is probably worth a try.”
Tim Phillips, executive director of Westmoreland County's Drug Overdose Task Force, said what Sheetz is doing is “commendable,” but he doesn't think the blue light system is going to stop people from using drugs.
“The bottom line is, if they're going to shoot dope, it's not going to stop them,” Phillips said. “You can find a vein just simply by feeling.
“It might be an initial distraction, but I really don't think it's going to deter them a whole lot.”
A qualitative study published in 2013 in the Harm Reduction Journal also concluded that blue lights are unlikely to deter drug use in public bathrooms and may increase drug-related harms.
Three study participants made comments that suggested they were “entirely undeterred” by blue lights. Some who said they generally avoid public bathrooms with such lights said they would inject there if they thought there was no alterative.
“When push comes to shove, it would mean no difference to me, really,” one participant is quoted as saying. “If I needed the bathroom and it was there, and it was, like, my only choice in the area, I wouldn't think twice about going there again.”
Jeff Lenard, vice president of Strategic Industry Initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), said he is not familiar with Sheetz's blue light system nor does he know of any other stores that may be doing something similar.
He said convenience stores can be a valuable resource to test new programs to benefit communities because they are in virtually every community in the country.
“Sheetz is certainly an innovative company in trying new initiatives to benefit communities, but the convenience store industry is also looking at how we can play a greater role in helping communities,” he said. “For instance, NACS is working with the (U.S. Department of Homeland Security's) “Blue Campaign” to help communicate the problem of human trafficking.
“The focus is not that convenience stores are the site for this problem,” Lenard said, “but can be a community watch to help address the problem.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.