Turkey Hill Joins Sheetz in Testing Blue Lights to Combat Drug Use in Stores
LANCASTER, Pa. — Turkey Hill Minit Markets is the next Pennsylvania convenience store chain adorning blue-colored bulbs in its restrooms.
The blue lights are meant to discourage people from using drugs in store bathrooms by making it more difficult for them to see their veins. It's an idea that's been around for years but is getting a fresh look as a result of the nation's opioid epidemic, reported Penn Live.
"The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot," said Read Hayes, a University of Florida researcher and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, a retail industry-supported group that is looking at the lights' effectiveness.
Hayes, whose group devises methods to combat theft and violent crime at stores, said that the study is still in its infancy, but that initial feedback from stores that have been using them has been positive.
Earlier studies have questioned the lights' deterrent effect, with people who use opioids telling researchers they'd shoot up in blue light if it meant avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Many public health experts oppose the practice, saying blue lights make people more likely to hurt themselves and stigmatize those in the grips of addiction, Penn Live reported.
In Luzerne County, where Turkey Hill has installed blue lights at a store in Wilkes-Barre, 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."
At some Turkey Hill locations in hard-hit neighborhoods, store workers would often find used needles or even people slumped over from an overdose, according to Matt Dorgan, the chain's asset protection manager.
"We realized we need to do something to protect our associates and our customers," he stressed.
The blue lights were part of a broader set of security measures at Turkey Hill that included brighter exterior lighting, new window signage to make store exteriors more visible from inside, and security training for store workers.
More than six months after the chain began using the blue lights in as many as 20 stores, "we're not finding hardly anything anymore," Dorgan said. "It's a pretty dramatic reduction. We haven't had a single overdose."
Lancaster-based Turkey Hill Minit Markets, which operates 260 locations, joins fellow Pennsylvania c-store retailer Sheetz Inc. in testing the anti-drug measure.
Sheetz debuted its first blue-lit restroom at its store located at 325 Freeport St. in New Kensington, Pa., in December. The blue light system was designed to help both customers and employees avoid dangerous situations, Convenience Store News previously reported.
Following the test, Nick Ruffner, a spokesperson for Sheetz, said the c-store chain has seen "positive steps in the right direction" and has since installed the blue bulbs at a store in Huntington, W. Va.
"It is still too early to speak about specifics regarding the test, but it is making a difference," he noted.
Altoona-based Sheetz operates more than 540 c-stores throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina.