comments 12

A vein attempt?

Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins
Blue lighting makes it more difficult to see veins

Blue lighting is sometimes used in public toilets (restrooms) to make it more difficult for drug users to inject themselves (veins are harder to see). The above implementation is in Edinburgh, next to the Tron Kirk.

It was more difficult to see my veins through my skin, but there was normal-coloured lighting in the street outside, and one would assume that the users would thus just go outside instead, though the risk of detection is greater. (An additional result of the blue lighting is that, on going outside after spending more than a few seconds in the toilets, the daytime world appears much brighter and more optimistic, even on an overcast day: could retail designers or others make use of this effect? Do they already?)

So the blue lighting ‘works’, but is it really a good idea to increase the risk that an injection will be done wrongly – maybe multiple times? This is perhaps a similar argument to that surrounding delibrately reducing visibility at junctions: the architecture of control makes it more dangerous for the few users (and those their actions affect) who ignore or bypass the control. This seems to be an architecture of control with the potential to endanger life, although the actual stated intention behind it probably includes ‘saving lives’.

Without knowing more about addiction, however, I can’t say whether making it difficult for people to inject will really help stop them doing it; it would seem more likely that (as in the linked Argus story), the aim of the blue lighting is to move the ‘problem’ somewhere else rather than actually ‘solve’ it – as with the anti-homeless benches, in fact.

Another example in this kind of area is the use of smoke alarms specifically to prevent people smoking in toilets, e.g. on aeroplanes (the noise, and embarrassment, is a sufficient deterrent). There’s even been the suggestion of using the Mosquito high-pitched alarm coupled to a smoke detector to ‘prevent’ children smoking in school toilets (I’d expect that quite a few would deliberately try to set them off; I know I would have as a kid). A friend mentioned the practice of siting smoking shelters a long way from office buildings so that smokers are discouraged from going so often; this backfired for the company concerned, as smokers just took increasingly long breaks to make it ‘worth their while’ to walk the extra distance.


  1. We’ve got anti-homeless benches outside of our office. They’re very uncomfortable and as a result no one uses them opting to sit on the front steps of the building instead. This drives management up the wall as they think it unsightly but it’s their damn fault. Idiotic design in my opinion.

  2. karlt

    I’ve noticed this lighting in some of the less salubrious pubs and clubs in Leicester. Doesn’t really work though, since drug users have learned to use a magic marker to mark their veins befoe going into the toilet.

  3. Of course it’s to move the drug users elsewhere. The establishment using the blue lights doesn’t have an interest in protecting drug users from themselves; their interest is in protecting the other customers of the establishment from having to encounter drug users shooting up in the washroom (by giving the drug users an incentive to use some other place’s washrooms).

    I don’t see it so much here in bars as I do in places that have free entry and unattended washrooms, like laundromats and pizza-by-the-slice joints.

    I don’t buy the idea that there’s a bystander effect like there is with the poor-visibility intersections, though. All things being equal, washrooms without drug users are safer and more comfortable for their intended use, and if drug users decide to use the washroom to shoot up anyhow, the blue light doesn’t make it more dangerous for the intended use than a washroom with regular lights.

  4. Dan

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think Rich is probably right that the bystander effect is different to that with the poor-visibility intersections, most of the time at least. My wording wasn’t great!

    I suppose what I meant was that if drug users still choose to inject under blue light and make mistakes, or need multiple tries, the effect on bystanders may be worse than if they did it more easily under normal light. There may be more discarded needles, blood, or worse.

    But yes, overall, it would seem that the aim is to move the problem on.

  5. JH

    Not the effect you mention specifically, but retailers are certainly aware of the effects lighting can have on their sales, and increasingly there is the research to prove it.

    I have to hand a guidebook by a lighting manufacturer Zumtobel Staff titled ‘Lighting for the Workplace’ that points to research from, among others, Brown University that reports that the brain has a non-visual light receptor most sensitive to blue light.

    Exposure to blue light apparently causes the production of melatonin in the pineal gland to be suppressed, making us more alert, since melatonin makes us sleepy. In this context, they are attempting to convince us that expensive light fittings containing blue light in the workplace make for more productive employees, but annecdotally it’s no secret that alert shoppers spend more.

    You can experiment with this effect yourself if, like me, you work or spend time in a building with little daylight. Though there are many factors that cause that afternoon lull, you will probably find this lull is less severe if you take an outdoor lunch break for at least 20 minutes.

  6. Pingback: Unintended effects: blue lights vs heroin « Shakeout’s Blog

  7. Thomas

    I cannot see why you have a problem with this? I think its in excellent idea! Its in my local train station(Reading) and if it keeps people from shooting up in the toilets, its a good idea!

    Also I doubt you will find many addicts attempting to inject without finding a vein, and if they did this, all they would get is a little discomfort…

    ‘, but is it really a good idea to increase the risk that an injection will be done wrongly – maybe multiple times?’

    This would be a fairly rich heroine addict who would waste alot of money pumping drugs into his arm, when most likely they would just go elsewhere!

    The way I see it, the blue light hardly effects me, and if it lessons the risk of me bumping into a freshly high addict while going to the toilet, I cannot see the problem.

    Yes, this is only moving the problem on, but at least its slightly protecting the public from a potential danger(including needles left on the floor).

    As I see it, curing the heroine problem is a BIG task, verging on the impossible. The only steps I would try and take to fix it would be too give heroine addicts controlled, clean amounts of heroine from the NHS, this would reduce burglaries, and heroine related deaths. Also hopefully allowing the NHS to slowly reduce the amount or strength, gradually getting them of the drugs, however this will never happen:/

  8. kia

    you know i am not a heroin user. i live with one, i know what it is like to go thru the malia’s or sickness. um, i have been addicted for a long time since i was about 18 now 40 and have seen my mom all my life on opioids so i do know what it feels to be addicted. i am addicted to coke and pills, and it feels as though no one understands. i feel so alone. and i agree i think if the DOH would give addicts what there addicted to it would not only help the addict but society would benefit in alot of ways i know this is not societys problem but yet it is. if the addicts would just be looked at as people not bad people they are just looking for help not judgement.

  9. kia

    oh i was going to make a statement on this blue lite, if your a addict you do not care where you are you can be in a park in a library in a parking lot sitting on the ground if you need a fix your going to fix, outside inside wherever. being a addict is a disease not easy to fix even with a blue lite…. nice looking though.

  10. Blue lighting doesn’t work. They have just abandoned it in Pearse railway station in the heart of Dublin. The druggies simply traced the required vein with a pen before entering the toilet. You have to admire the simplicity of that solution though there might be an increased risk of infection depending on the care taken with the pen and its contents.

  11. I notice that the image heading this piece also shows the sloping surface deterent. I know of a gallery in Brighton that could only get planning permission for an additional toilet provided that all surfaces sloped at 45 degrees – to prevent cocaine use (it was an art gallery)- as it was a disabled toilet it was also a requirement that it had baby changing facilities – a horizontal fold-out platform, perfect for setting up a chemistry set. The horizontal plinth in the photo above is presumably part of the same folly.

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