PDT Staff Writer
Since the inception of the “Prevention NOT Permission” syringe exchange program in Portsmouth in March 2011, 20,000 syringes have been exchanged.
“And that’s not even the county people coming in,” said Bobbi Bratchett of the Portsmouth City Health Department. “Almost all are from (ZIP codes) 45662 and 45663, because I can’t go out to the county because I don’t have any money. If I had funding, I could go out there once a month to Lucasville, Minford, South Webster, and I could get their numbers. But I can’t get them very often because they don’t have ways to get in here.”
Bratchett said the program operates with no budget, and with donated syringes from places such as King’s Daughters and Cabell Huntington hospitals and other health departments, and the donation of coffee cans for sharps storage from people in the community. Bratchett said the program also always needs donations of supplies: insulin syringes, alcohol pads, gauze, cotton balls and band aids.
“What this has accomplished is that those who used illicit drug syringes have not tossed them in sewers, garbage cans, parks, church steps, those kinds of places,” Bratchett said. “Plus, we have recently received stats that say we are down 17 percent in Hepatitis C cases.” Prior to the creation of the syringe exchange program, Scioto County led the state in Hepatitis C cases. Bratchett credits the syringe exchange program, because Hepatitis C is spread through the blood, which is on the used syringes.
Bratchett said there are only two syringe exchange programs in Ohio. Cleveland is the other city that has a program. A similar program was approved by the Cincinnati Board of Health. Bratchett said the Cincinnati prosecutor, however, threatened to prosecute anyone who would exchange a syringe. One of the reasons the program has been rejected in other communities is a belief that it encourages the illicit use of intravenous drugs.
“We encourage everyone not to be using, so we also offer the services where they can get free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, so they can know if they have any diseases, and that also brings referrals back into our own local clinics for family planning, birth control, immunizations for themselves and their children,” Bratchett said.
Prevention NOT Permission states the exact premise for the program; it is attempting to lower the risks of blood borne diseases but not giving permission for anyone to do illicit drugs. An individual may bring in their used syringes and get clean ones in return. However, information is gathered to ascertain locations, type of drugs used, race, age, gender, and referrals are given to those who need additional services.
Bratchett said the reason she has been able to operate the program without funding is what she believes is a calling on her life.
“Every time we almost run out of syringes, someone donates syringes,” Bratchett said.
Bratchett said she does not believe she has begun to reach all of the people who need the service in the city.
“Truthfully, I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, because these are repeat customers,” Bratchett said. “They are from all walks of life. But the sad part of it is because the part of the Obama Health Care bill that funding syringe exchange programs was voted down in December. That would have afforded me to be able to go out to remote sites.”
The Portsmouth City Health Department also offers Vivitrol to individuals who are struggling with alcohol and opioid addictions. This is a 28-day time-released medication that blocks the euphoria from the drug.
She said anyone needing more information may call the Portsmouth City Health Department at 740-353-8863 or follow them on the Facebook pages: Prevention NOT Permission, Portsmouth City Health Department, T.R.A.A.G., or on Twitter at portsmouthhd, and online at www.portsmouthhealthdept.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.