Drugs and syringes have become such a problem in Starbucks bathrooms that the company is installing needle-disposal boxes in certain locations (SBUX)

  • Starbucks is installing needle-disposal boxes in some bathrooms, as well as exploring other solutions to workers' concerns regarding improperly disposed-of syringes and related health risks.
  • More than 3,700 people signed a petition on Coworker.org calling for Starbucks to place needle-disposal boxes in high-risk bathrooms. 
  • Starbucks workers report finding blood and needles in bathrooms, as well as being pricked by improperly disposed-of needles, risking exposure to HIV and hepatitis. 
  • The decision to install needle-disposal or "sharps" boxes in Starbucks locations could help prompt change in the restaurant industry, making workers' jobs safer amid the opioid epidemic.  

Starbucks is installing boxes for safe disposal of syringes in the bathrooms of certain locations, following workers' reports of discarded needles and sometimes concerning conditions. 

The coffee giant is exploring possible remedies after employees expressed fears about being pricked by uncapped needles and experiencing related health risks. Starbucks is testing solutions including installing sharps-disposal boxes, utilizing heavier-duty trash bags to prevent needle pokes, and removing trash cans from certain bathrooms. 

"These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations, which is why we have protocols and resources in place to ensure our partners are out of harm's way," Starbucks representative Reggie Borges told Business Insider. 

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Opioid and drug crisis in America
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Opioid and drug crisis in America
Discarded needles are seen at a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is knowen, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. Known by locals as El Campanento, the open air drug market and heroin encampment is built with the discarded materials from the gulch and populated by addicts seeking a hit of heroin to keep their dope sick, or withdrawal symptoms, at bay. In one area, near the 2nd Avenue overpass, empty syringe wrappers blanket the refuse like grass the used needles they once contained poking through like thistles. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man leans against the wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Family members of those who died of opioid overdoses attend the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on at the National Mall on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man rests against a wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Brian smokes a synthetic drug called K2 on the street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Quincy Massachusetts Police Detective Lt. Patrick Glynn holds a nasal injection containing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at the police headquarters in Quincy, Mass., June 13, 2014. Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2010 became the first U.S. city to make the drug standard equipment for its police officers, who have used it to reverse some 275 overdoses, a significant number in a city of 93,000 people. Police forces nationwide are starting to follow suit. The state program has now moved far beyond police, training some 25,747 people in Massachusetts how to recognize the signs of opioid drug overdoses and administer naloxone. June 13, 2014. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH CRIME LAW)
A woman suspected of acting under the influence of heroine shows arms to police on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after it was found during a police search on April 19, 2017, in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Jessica, a homeless heroin addict, shows her kit of clean needles, mixing cap and tourniquet in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. 80 percent of us want to get out,' said Jessica, before outlining the numerous ways she has tried to get treatment for her addiction. In one case, she said, there weren't any available beds. In another, a treatment provider required a positive drug test before delivering aid, meaning if she hadn't used recently she'd be denied. Instead of getting treatment, she spends her nights trying to keep warm on a mattress under a bridge, the very spot where she was raped and infected with HIV. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug paraphernalia and other garbage litter a vacant house on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man injects himself in the foot with heroin near a heroin encampmentin the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. At the camp, and throughout the nearby area, a user can buy a bag of high-grade heroin at a low price and even pay to have another person inject them if for any reason they are unable to inject themselves. For several individuals, the addiction process was a slow one that started with a doctor's prescription for pain pills after an accident or surgery, and by the time the medication was finished, a dependency was born. After seeking black-market pills to feed their addiction, the simple economics of heroin won out: the price of a single pill could fetch anywhere between 2 and 10 bags of heroin, a savings that's hard to ignore when an insurance company is no longer underwriting the cost. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Botticelli, U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director, speaks at the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members of people who have died in the opioid and heroin epidemic gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A man uses a syringe to gather the last drops from a scavenged water bottle to mix up a shot of heroin near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Philadelphia Police officer patrols under a bridge near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia��s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. Last month, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced citations against the Consolidated Rail Corporation for what the mayor, in a release, said was Conrail's failure to clean and secure their own property.' Visitors and homeless residents of the gulch say the trash isn't their fault, and that they are only there because they have nowhere else to go. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SANFORD, ME - FEBRUARY 16: Milo Chernin, who lost her son Sam to a heroin overdose on Jan. 16, 2017, looks at photos at her home in Sanford. She says that Sam, who died at age 25, struggled with his addiction and could not stay away from heroin despite getting treatment. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: A box of the opioid antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan, sits on display during a family addiction support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The drug is used to revive people suffering from heroin overdose. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 23: A heroin user injects himself on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: Family members of people addicted heroin and opioid pain pills share stories during a support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 14: Jackson, 27, who said he is addicted to prescription medication, lies passed out in a public library on March 14, 2016 in New London, CT. Police say an increasing number of suburban addicts are coming into the city to buy heroin, which is much cheaper than opioid painkillers. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: 'Buck' who is 23 and addicted to heroin, shoots up Suboxone, a maintenance drug for opioid dependence that is also highly addictive on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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As of Wednesday, more than 3,700 people have signed a petition on Coworker.org calling for Starbucks to place needle-disposal boxes in high-risk bathrooms. 

"My coworkers and I had all experienced needles left behind in the bathroom, store, and even in our drive-thru," said one person who signed the petition after working at a Starbucks location in Lynnwood, Washington, for three years. The three Starbucks employees who spoke with Business Insider for this article asked to either remain anonymous or only be referred to by their first name, in order to speak frankly.

"My primary fear when I worked there would be taking out the bathroom garbages," the former employee, who quit in 2018, told Business Insider. "I was terrified that if I went to take the bag out, I would get poked by a needle I didn't know was there."  

Bathrooms as a battleground 

starbucks bathroom (Business Insider)

Starbucks currently trains employees on how to safely deal with hypodermic needles. According to the company, any employee who feels unsafe performing a task is encouraged to speak with his or her manager and will not be made to perform the action.

"I can't emphasize enough that if our partners are ever in a position where they don't feel comfortable completing a task, they are empowered to remove themselves from the situation and alert their manager, " Borges said. "As we always do, we are constantly evaluating our processes and listening to partner feedback of ways we can be better."

However, some workers say that in the fast-paced workplace, policies are sometimes ignored and inadvertent needle pricks remain a problem. 

In October, three Starbucks employees in Seattle told local news that they encountered hypodermic needles on the job nearly every day. They said they had to take antiviral medications to protect themselves from HIV and hepatitis.

Read more:Starbucks workers in Seattle claim that dangerous needle pokes and HIV-prevention drugs have become a routine part of working at the coffee giant

Following the incident, Starbucks began installing sharps boxes in certain Seattle locations. Sharps boxes are containers that allow people to safely discard needles, syringes, and lancets that might otherwise pierce through a trash bag and poke workers. 

While not every Starbucks location has the same issues, baristas across the US have expressed concerns about needles and other disturbing materials found in bathrooms — a common problem in the restaurant industry. 

starbucks blood(Business Insider)

A Starbucks employee named Jamie, from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, said that she has found an array of worrisome items in bathrooms over the last 13 years, some of which she has provided photos of for this story. 

According to Jamie, she and other coworkers have encountered drugs, alcohol bottles, blood on floors and walls, condoms and condom wrappers, and needles (capped and uncapped) on floors and in the trash. 

Baristas dealing with syringe disposal and needle pricks are symptomatic of a problem that extends far beyond Starbucks. 

In a study led by Brett Wolfson-Stofko for New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, 58% of the 86 New York City business managers surveyed said they had encountered drug use in their businesses' bathrooms. Another Center for Drug Use and HIV Research study of 15 service-industry workers found that a significant majority had encountered drug use and/or syringes in bathrooms while on the job. 

Wolfson-Stofko told Business Insider that employees he interviewed expressed concerns about being pricked by needles or having customers injure themselves. People who are inadvertently pricked by needles often pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for emergency-room visits, tests, and medication.  

"They're concerned about their health," Wolfson-Stofko said of the workers surveyed. "They're concerned about their customers' health." 

According to Wolfson-Stofko, installing sharps containers is one of the first things that businesses can do to keep workers safe and help them avoid contact with improperly disposed syringes. Wolfson-Stofko also suggested that companies can support in-store workers by providing training on how to deal with overdosing customers and supporting the installation of supervised injection facilities in their community. 

Are open-bathroom policies to blame? 

starbucks drugs(Business Insider)

Starbucks is in a unique position because unlike many other chains, its bathrooms are not only for paying customers. In May, Starbucks announced plans to open up its bathrooms to everyone, sparking some concerns about whether doing so could make the stores less safe.

"I think the bathroom policy has definitely changed the stores environment," one manager who works at a Starbucks location in Southern California told Business Insider. "It's great that Starbucks wants to try and include everyone, but that means that they include absolutely everyone." 

According to the manager, workers have been forced to close down the location's restrooms a number of times after finding drugs, needles, or blood. Despite workers' care in cleaning bathrooms, at least one worker was pricked by a stashed needle, the manager says. 

However, other employees said they felt that the issues predated the new bathroom policy.

According to Wolfson-Stofko, there has been minimal research into how Starbucks' new policy may have impacted bathrooms' safety. More generally, he says that most bathroom policies — such as keeping doors locked or providing unlock codes on receipts — simply give workers an "illusion of control." 

"Even before Starbucks said anyone could use the bathroom, that was not deterring people who would inject drugs," Wolfson-Stofko said. 

The opioid epidemic continues to be a major issue across the country. More than 70,000 people died due to drug overdoses in the US in 2017, up 9.6% from 2016, according to CDC data. 

Wolfson-Stofko said that Starbucks' efforts could help lead other companies to more directly address improperly disposed-of needles and worker safety. Seeing such a large company take action, he said, "will hopefully encourage other businesses to take employees' concerns seriously." 

Are you a Starbucks employee with a story to share? Email this reporter at ktaylor@businessinsider.com. 

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