Some residents may have noticed blue lights illuminated spaces such as public washrooms in downtown Victoria.
The lights are aimed at preventing drug use in the bathrooms and with a safe injection site in the area, it’s easy to understand the concern, but according to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) blue lights may have the reverse affect and increase the risks associated with injecting drugs.
The lights are intended to visually obscure superficial veins, thus making it difficult to inject drugs intravenously. A position statement released by the BCCDC states that despite vein visibility, evidence shows people who are confident in their injecting ability will inject under the lights, adding the lights promote unsafe practices such as deep vein injecting which can be done without visual identification of the vein.
People who use drugs may also have trouble measuring or monitoring the amount of substance they are injecting, increasing the risk of overdose and the risk of bloodborne virus transmissions as it’s harder to see and clean up any blood or bodily fluids.
A study cited by the BCCDC, and found in the Harm Reduction Journal, interviewed 18 people who used injection drugs and found the need for an immediate solution would often override other considerations when choosing a place to use.
One of the participants stated “if I’m dope sick then it doesn’t really matter where I do it. I mean, I would do it in front of a cop car.”
The study found participants had a number of strategies to overcome some of the inconveniences imposed by blue lights such as preparing and loading syringes before entering the bathroom, bringing other light sources like candles, lighters or flashlights with them, injecting by feel or even stepping out into the hallway and doing it there. Women and ‘veteran injectors,’ with smaller or more difficult to access veins, were found to have particular difficulty adapting under blue lights.
The BCCDC adds, blue lights compromise the health and safety of all washroom users as the reduced visibility can increase the risk of trips and falls, make it harder to see and clean up hazardous waste, along with the prevention of carrying out basic personal hygiene — such as identifying changes in eye or skin tone, or detecting the presence of blood or discoloration in bodily fluids.
A recent post on the Facebook group, Victoria Rant and Rave, garnered a number of comments from people who thought the blue lights would not deter people, along with a few others noting the stigmatizing nature of the lights.
Cheryl Bloxham, spokesperson with Island Health, told Black Press Media the province’s health authorities, including Island Health, support the BCCDC’s position on the lights.
The BCCDC recommends businesses or other organizations with concerns about drug use in their washrooms connect with a local harm reduction coordinator for support with implementing alternative strategies, such as installing sharp disposal boxes.
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