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Starbucks to install more needle disposal boxes in bathrooms nationwide

Following employee concerns about dirty needles in restrooms, the coffee chain says it will do what it can to protect its "partners."
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/ Source: TODAY

As the opioid crisis continues to affect millions of Americans, Starbucks says it will move forward with plans to install more needle-disposal boxes in select store bathrooms nationwide.

The move, which the chain publicly started considering in January, comes as more people have signed up to support an employee-led campaign to install "safe needle disposal boxes in the bathrooms of high-risk areas." In February 2018, the Starbucks employee who started the petition reported being the third "partner" (the term Starbucks uses to describe its employees) to be pricked by a dirty needle in a Seattle-area cafe.

Since then, the petition has received over 5,000 of its 6,000 signatures goal.

Now, TODAY has confirmed that Starbucks locations in Seattle, Philadelphia and New York City have received needle-disposal boxes.

Employee baristas inside Starbucks Coffee
Starbucks will be rolling out sharps boxes in stores nationwide, as needed, to protect its baristas. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)Getty Images stock

"At this point, our focus is installing them where employees need them," a spokesperson for Starbucks told TODAY. "The opioid crisis is affecting people across the country and our partners sometimes see that, and it's important to not put employees in uncomfortable situations. I think there's been an industry-wide concern."

The move to protect Starbucks workers started in the fall of 2018, according to the spokesperson, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated a cafe in Oregon after two of its employees reported being stuck with hypoallergenic needles while cleaning the store. Simultaneously, the chain's corporate leadership team met to discuss a solution to support staff across the country.

In January, Starbucks announced it would be installing sharps boxes in bathrooms where employees or managers felt they were needed. Sharps boxes or, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "Sharps Disposal Containers," are thick plastic containers marked with the biohazard infectious waste warning symbol and a clear line that indicates when the container is full enough to be disposed of and replaced. The FDA recommends needle-disposal boxes "for use by health care professionals and the public to help reduce the risk of injury and infections from sharps."

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared that the use of opioids, both prescription and street drugs like heroin, to be a public health emergency. That year, the HHS reported 886,000 people used heroin (81,000 of whom tried the drug for the first time), and more than 15,000 died from an overdose.

But the street drug isn't only on the streets. According to signees of the petition, users have made their way into Starbucks cafes to shoot up and then ditch used needles in the bathrooms — leaving employees to clean up the mess — and risk being pricked with a needle previously used by someone who may have contracted HIV or hepatitis.

By January, according to the petition, needle-disposal boxes had been installed in six stores in Seattle.

Sharps disposal
Sharps boxes are recommended by the FDA to help prevent injury or infection from used needles.Getty Images

Despite vestibules creating a safer environment for employees who work in stores where heroin is a problem, there has already been an outcry from customers who feel Starbucks has gone too far.

Some think the chain is welcoming addicts, especially since making restrooms open to all after the racially charged incident that occurred in a Philadelphia Starbucks last year when two black men who waiting for another man, were arrested for sitting in the store without making a purchase.

One tweeter called the coffee chain a "modern opium den."

Others pointed out how drug addicts may not even use the boxes.

In response to patrons reacting unpleasantly to boxes being installed in Starbucks' bathrooms, the spokesperson stressed to TODAY that installing the boxes is a matter of safety, and the company hopes its customers will understand.

On Monday, Business Insider reported that the chain will install sharps boxes in 25 markets, including Seattle, New York City and Philadelphia. However, Starbucks would not confirm a specific rollout date to TODAY, and denied that the boxes would be in dozens of markets by the summer.

"Summer 2019 is not fully accurate," the spokesperson said, adding that the boxes are still in a "fairly" limited number of stores. "We're hoping to install them as soon as possible, but not by then and not in 25 U.S. markets."