Considering numbers alone, the Portsmouth Health Department's syringe exchange program is a success. The goal of the program, dubbed Prevention not Permission, is to get intravenous drug users to turn in their old used syringes for new ones, to keep from spreading diseases and infecting innocent people. "We have already had 35 exchanges and 952 used syringes are off the street in our fledgling program," said Bobbi Bratchett of the Portsmouth City Health Department, who heads up the program. Bratchett said he program began March 1 after a resolution was passed by the Portsmouth City Health Department. A group of pastors in Richland County protested recently the donation of 200 needles by the Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Department. "They were two-fold upset," Bratchett said. "They thought it was not a solution and they also thought it was their county dollars coming here. But those were actually H1N1 syringes the State of Ohio supplied to everybody. So there was no funding from their dollars. Their funding dollars did not come here." "That is true," Richland County Health Commissioner Stan Saalman said. "They were left over from the H1N1 flu clinics. They were needles that we were not going to use locally." According to a story in the Mansfield News Journal, the Rev. El Akuchie of the Richland Community Family Coalition, said, "As the conscience of the community, we believe that biblical faith can be injected into everyday life and produce reliable results." Bratchett said she believes faith can work within the framework of the program. "He said you only need Jesus to get through it," Bratchett said. "Let me tell you, Jesus helps you. I truly believe that, I really do. When I started this program I prayed at every venue before I went anywhere, and I got yeses. So who is to say God didn't tell me to do this program?" Bratchett said she can't use the syringes anyway because of their size. "They're too big," Bratchett said. "I had them here in case we would get down low and someone wanted to use them, but if you can imagine a diabetic needle that is used to draw blood out of you going into your muscle. That's how much bigger they are." Bratchett said it is important for people to know Scioto County has the highest rate of hepatitis C in Ohio with a 23.73 percent positive status per 100,000 population. Bratchett said sanitation workers, home inspectors, police officers, firefighters and residents of Scioto County are now at risk from discarded used needles. Used needles have been found in garbage bags, vacant homes, playgrounds, parks, church/school steps and alleys, and pose health hazards to people coming in contact with them. That is what prompted the program, which is conducted in venues known basically only to PCHD officials and syringe exchangers. Bratchett was quick to add that the Obama administration announced a national strategy to reduce the annual number of HIV infections in the United States by 25 percent over the next five years, "including the scientifically proven approach of syringe exchange programs." Bratchett said she is thankful for the help from the Health Department and the community, including those who donated coffee cans to be used for disposal of used syringes. Bratchett referenced the Harm Reduction Coalition website, which gives statistics about how many programs of the type are in operation and their success rate. "It does say historically it lowers diseases. It does historically lower crime," Bratchett said. According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, syringe exchange programs provide tools, resources and education to enable people who inject drugs to protect themselves and their communities through safer injection practices and harm reduction methods. Nearly 200 syringe exchange programs operate in 38 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and Indian lands. Both state and local jurisdictions authorize and regulate sterile syringe access programs. There are no federal regulations governing sterile syringe access.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.