- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Dec. 24

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on prescription-only policy:

Here we go again. The Kanawha County Commission Substance Abuse Task Force is again recommending that the state legislature pass a law requiring a prescription to obtain cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, one of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine.

The task force made the same recommendation last year. It was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now.

A prescription-only pseudoephedrine system would penalize law-abiding cold and allergy sufferers and burden our health care system, without any guarantee of halting the meth epidemic in the state.

Nebraska’s experience is instructive. In 2005, it limited pseudoephedrine sales. In-state meth production declined, but now law enforcement faces a different problem: Mexican drug cartels have entered the state, setting up sophisticated drug-trafficking networks to meet demand.

Nebraska law enforcement officials say meth trafficking from Mexico is “the most serious drug threat to the state,” reported the Omaha World-Herald in October.

“The volumes (of meth) that we are seeing now are significantly more than what we were seeing three years ago,” a DEA official told the paper.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko sums up the Cornhusker State’s conundrum: “So Nebraska has fewer homemade meth labs, but there’s more meth on the street, and now instead of busting small, localized distributors, local officials are up against an international crime syndicate.”

Mississippi, another state that limited pseudoephedrine sales, also saw its number of labs drop. But “(m)eth use is still prominent as it always has been,” says a local law enforcement officer. “We’re seeing the higher grade of meth coming from Mexico.”

In other words, if West Virginia goes the prescription-only route, the law of unintended consequences could mean that foreign cartels flood the state with a more potent form of meth. Law enforcement would have a new and unfamiliar set of problems. Meth addiction would still be rampant.

And every West Virginian with a common cold would face a choice: suffer without medication, or schedule an inconvenient doctor’s visit for a product they could once simply toss in their grocery cart.

Methamphetamine use is a huge problem in West Virginia, and policymakers are understandably desperate for solutions. But we should heed the lesson other states have learned: Without reducing demand for the drug, squeezing supply from one source will only increase it from elsewhere - and potentially cause bigger problems.

A prescription-only policy isn’t the way to go. It’s time to turn our energy toward other ways of fighting meth.




Dec. 23

The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, on safer mining:

Since 29 miners died April 5, 2010, in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, federal safety officials say the coal industry is on pace for an all-time low in work-related deaths.

It is our fervent hope that continues to be true.

Stories in Monday’s and today’s Register-Herald quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main as saying it appears there is a cultural change in the mining industry that is for the better. As of today, there had been 15 mine-related deaths; the previous low was 18 in 2009.

Main said he believes there are several factors to which the lower numbers can be attributed: blitz inspections of mines with Patterns of Violations (POV); miners who are better educated about their rights to report their safety concerns; and, unfortunately, fewer numbers of workers mining coal.

We’ve always known how dangerous it is to mine coal. The numbers of miners killed in the 20th century totaled in the hundreds. After the Farmington No. 9 explosion in 1968 brought about the Coal Mine Safety Act, the tide did turn somewhat. But as the years passed, many became complacent or put the want for profit above the lives of miners.

The 2010 loss of 29 men at UBB jolted everyone into awareness.

Corners were being cut in mining - and not just in coal mines. Shortly after UBB, a list of mines with patterns of violations numbered 51, with 42 of those coal mines. This year, the list had dwindled to 12, six of them coal mines.

It is a shame that it took the loss of so many lives to make the coal industry clean up its act. But we must emphasize that there can be no let up in the POV listed mines or in the blitz inspections that are helping increase mine safety.

As investigations into the UBB disaster progressed, many miners admitted there were immense safety issues in their mines, but they did not report them to officials in fear of retaliation from their bosses.

Main said that fear is being addressed, with MSHA filing discrimination suits on the miners’ behalf if retaliation appears to be an issue. Opportunities for training and education of miners have increased, as well.

The assistant secretary also said mine operators should receive recognition for their efforts to improve mine safety. While some credit is due for those actions, really, shouldn’t it go without saying that safety should always be the top priority?

Main’s last reason for the improvement in mine-related deaths is the one that is most troubling. The continuing decrease in the number of mines - and therefore miners - is one we unfortunately must become used to.

We know that coal will never return to the employment levels of its heyday. That is why we must concentrate more of our efforts at diversification of our economy. We must work to educate displaced mine workers and others in different vocations where they can be gainfully and safely employed.

There are parallels in the lessons of UBB in all of our lives.

Keeping ourselves, our workplaces, our homes safe is one of the most important things we can do.




Dec. 24

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on teens use of electric cigarettes:

A report issued this month by the National Institutes of Health contained some encouraging findings regarding teens’ use of addictive and harmful substances. But is also uncovered a trend that may signal a potentially unwanted turnaround in one aspect.

The results were tabulated from the institutes’ annual national survey of teens’ use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products.

The positive trends were numerous, according to a report on the survey by The Associated Press. They included a leveling off of marijuana use and fewer teens are trying synthetic marijuana, using prescription painkillers without medical supervision and engaging in binge drinking of alcohol.

Another improvement was seen in tobacco smoking. For example, just 4 percent of eighth-graders reported smoking a traditional cigarette, a new low, according to the National Institutes of Health.

However, for the first time the survey attempted to gauge teens’ use of electronic cigarettes, a type of product that first came into the U.S. market in 2006. The nature of that finding runs counter to the positive direction of other habits.

The survey found that about 9 percent of eighth-graders said they’d used an e-cigarette in the previous month, or more than double those who said they had smoked a traditional cigarette. And, as with other substances, the teens’ use increased with age. About 16 percent of 10th-graders had tried an e-cigarette in the past month, and 17 percent of high school seniors.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that produce vapor infused with potentially addictive nicotine but without the same chemicals and tar of tobacco cigarettes. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes bill them as a less dangerous alternative for regular smokers who are unable or unwilling to stop smoking.

The growing use of e-cigarettes concerns those in charge of the annual survey. “I worry that the tremendous progress that we’ve made over the last almost two decades in smoking could be reversed on us by the introduction of e-cigarettes,” University of Michigan professor Lloyd Johnston, the survey’s leader, told The Associated Press.

One finding suggests that many teens who use e-cigarettes aren’t simply trying to wean themselves from smoking. Depending on age, between 4 and 7 percent of students who had used e-cigarettes said they’d never smoked a tobacco cigarette. That suggests that some teens may be introduced to the puffing habit through e-cigarettes and could move on to trying tobacco cigarettes, too. Even if they don’t eventually try tobacco products, continued use of e-cigarettes could be harmful; there’s simply not enough information yet about what harms e-cigarettes might pose to their users.

Forty-one states including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also is considering rules to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes, including prohibiting the sale to minors a step that it should take as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, it behooves public health agencies to inform the public and teens regularly about any known concerns regarding e-cigarettes and the known dangerous health effects of tobacco. In addition, law enforcement should work hard to enforce the prohibition of sales to minors. It would be a shame if progress in reducing teens’ use of tobacco is reversed by this new alternative.





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