Portsmouth nurse testifies for needle exchange

By Frank Lewis

November 20, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Portsmouth City Health Department nurse Bobbi Bratchett, who brought the syringe exchange program to the city of Portsmouth, was scheduled to testify before the Ohio Senate Wednesday.

The Senate is in the process giving first reading to House Bill 92, already passed by the Ohio House of Representatives, and Bratchett will be one of those giving testimonials supporting the bill. Bratchett cautioned that it took several tries before the House voted on the measure and that Wednesday’s testimonial is only the first step in the Senate.

“We want the Ohio Legislature to make it to where any health department in the state of Ohio can have a syringe exchange program without the necessity of declaring a health emergency,” Bratchett said. “Right now it is currently illegal unless you declare a health emergency, which we did and which Cleveland did.”

Bratchett said the reaction by lawmakers in Columbus so far has been positive, including one of the most important votes in this part of the state, that of State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott).

“He has been very supportive,” Bratchett said. “He was on the committee on the Representatives section, and he was very supportive of it.”

Bratchett said the program has been very successful in the Portsmouth area.

“In 2011, when we first initiated the program, in the first nine months, we collected about 5,400, and I thought, wow, that’s a lot,” Bratchett said. “In the last couple of months we have exchanged about 8,500. What’s so astronomical about that is we are a city of 20,000 people and in a county of less than 80,000, so we are probably about 1,500 to 1,800 less than Cleveland right now.”

Bratchett echoed local law enforcement as well as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“Right now it’s mainly heroin that’s coming in,” Bratchett said. “We get drug trends, and it’s almost all heroin.”

Bratchett said she planned to tell lawmakers, as she always does, that it is a program of prevention, not permission.

“We give no one permission, and we do not advocate anyone to do illegal drugs,” Bratchett said. “So, what we are hoping is what we have seen in our own community, that it does not increase crime, and it does not increase usage, because people are going to do what people are going to do.”

Bratchett said another important aspect of the syringe exchange program is to attempt to decrease the spread of blood-borne pathenogens including HIV and Hepatitis C.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.