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West Virginia editorial roundup

September 26, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Sept. 24

The Charleston Gazette on West Virginia’s vaccination laws:

Two current state legislators from Raleigh County won’t be serving in the Legislature next year. Voters rejected both of them in May’s Republican primary election.

But before they leave, they and some of their colleagues made sure last week to take steps to endanger the health of West Virginia’s children.

Last week, members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Families decided they would draft a bill that would make it easier for children to be exempted from mandatory vaccinations before they attend school.

West Virginia is one of three states in the nation that does not allow children to skip vaccinations for nonmedical reasons — a stance that has won our state acclaim from public health officials around the country, state epidemiologist Loretta Haddy told lawmakers.

But there are exemptions available for children for medical reasons. ...

Haddy said reasons for wanting to avoid vaccinations were often vague, Erin Beck of the Beckley Register-Herald reported. The DHHR approves about 90 percent of the requests from exemptions it receives.

The bill to be drafted for next year’s legislative session would let individual doctors make decisions on vaccination exemptions ... Lynne Arvon, who was elevated from the House of Delegates to the state Senate by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this year, moved in the committee’s meeting last week to draft that bill, the Gazette-Mail’s Rebecca Carballo reported.

Arvon said government is too involved in the decision whether to vaccinate children.

But that’s exactly the kind of decision government should be involved in... The decision to vaccinate doesn’t just affect one child or one family. It affects everyone.

Chanda Adkins, a leader of the anti-vaccine group West Virginians for Health Freedom, was appointed by Justice to fill Arvon’s spot in the House. When she was appointed, she refused to say if she would pursue any legislation regarding vaccines. ...

There is no scientific reason to believe that vaccinations harm children, or cause disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as every reputable scientist who’s ever studied the issue. There was some concern about 25 years ago, but the research that scared everyone turned out to be fraudulent.

Yet there was Adkins in the committee meeting last week, advocating for more unvaccinated children to be allowed in schools.

To see what might happen with a large unvaccinated population, take a look at measles. Most measles outbreaks in the United States are caused by overseas travelers who bring the disease into this country, where unvaccinated people are susceptible, the CDC says.

But in 2014, there was a homegrown outbreak of nearly 400 cases. It came in Ohio, among Amish community members who hadn’t been vaccinated against measles.

No matter how an outbreak starts, in a population where most people are vaccinated, the disease has trouble spreading from person to person. Even those who are medically unable to be vaccinated can share in the protection if all or nearly all of the people around them are immune.

Perhaps West Virginians, like many Americans, have grown too far from the days when contagious diseases ran through classrooms almost routinely. ... For a couple generations now, few people have had to deal with very serious diseases that used to hop around like the flu. But they still exist, and they are still a threat.

Parents’ fears should be heard, examined and legitimately assuaged, but public health evidence and experience must rule decisions about West Virginia’s sterling vaccination laws. Lawmakers should rethink their decision to draft this bill. If they don’t, then when the Legislature reconvenes next year — without Arvon and Adkins — lawmakers should reject this bill.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Sept. 24

Daily Mail of Charleston on experts’ letters over the state Bureau for Public Health’s audit of a shuttered needle exchange:

In letters that came to light last week, eight harm-reduction “experts” from around the country took issue with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health’s audit of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s now-shuttered needle exchange program.

The experts disagreed with the audit’s notion that the program should have first connected patients to primary care and offered substance-abuse treatment before distributing syringes; that it distribute needles only to patients who come to the program in person; and that incomplete data was a reason to close the program, the Gazette-Mail’s Lori Kersey reported Friday.

But those who wrote in support of the needle-free-for-all failed to consider the program’s impact on the greater community.

They didn’t ask merchants in the Town Center mall or downtown about how numerous drug users loitering about the area affected their business. They didn’t ask police officers and firefighters about the increased dangers they faced from needle sticks on nearly every call.

These experts didn’t talk to parents of kids who play in playgrounds in the community and were at risk of being stuck by used needles littered about.

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Charleston Mayor Danny Jones has seen those impacts and heard from people affected by them.

“These seven so-called experts come from several other places, and they did not come here to see the invasion of needle users and people who preyed on them, and they certainly showed no understanding of the spike in violent crime and property crime that clearly happened as a direct result of that program,” Jones said in response to the letters, Kersey reported Monday.

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Brenda Isaac, chairwoman of the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health, said the letters vindicate the health department from accusations it mismanaged the needle exchange program.

Far from it. Isaac and the letter writers — with all their expertise in illegal drug use — don’t seem to understand that the needle-exchange program doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is a community of law-abiding citizens out there, too, whose concerns also need to be addressed.

The letters of the so-called experts have no validity outside of the harm-reduction community, until the authors come to Charleston and interview all the people that had been impacted by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s mercifully defunct drug user attraction program.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Sept. 23

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on Congress passing legislation to address opioid addiction:

The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have approved legislation to deal with the growing opioid addiction problem that has affected communities throughout the nation. A conference committee will iron out differences between the versions passed in the separate houses before it goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The legislation takes wide aim at the problem, including increasing scrutiny of arriving international mail that may include illegal drugs. It makes it easier for the National Institutes of Health to approve research on non-addictive painkillers and for pharmaceutical companies to conduct that research.

The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to require drugmakers to package smaller quantities of drugs such as opioids. And there would be new federal grants for treatment centers, training emergency workers and research on prevention methods.

Karen Yost, CEO of Prestera Center, said in a statement the 70 pieces of this bill is a good start, though there is no “magic bullet” to solving the opioid crisis.

“How this legislation is implemented will be key as even good legislation implemented poorly will not be helpful,” Yost said.

“This bill is a start in the right direction, even though it does not address significant underlying issues in this epidemic, including adverse childhood experiences, extreme poverty, gainful employment, safe affordable housing, related chronic health problems and co-occurring mental health problems.”

That’s a long list, and it helps explain how this problem became so big and is so difficult to overcome.

Another part of the package is the Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies (CRIB) Act, which allows Medicaid payments to pay for care at locations such as Lily’s Place, which provides residential care for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their parents. It also reauthorizes the Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women grant program and includes grants to help states implement plans of safe care for substance-exposed infants.

Also in the package are Jessie’s Law and a portion of the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act, which would better facilitate quality coordinated care for individuals with a history of substance use disorder.

The legislation headed toward conference committee does not provide funding for any of the new initiatives. That could be a problem. In the past, Congress has had a habit of authorizing big new programs or construction projects but not paying for them. West Virginia has served as a national template of how severe the opioid addiction problem can be and what can be done to deal with it.

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Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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