Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Inter-Mountain on high-speed internet access:
If you have traveled for business or pleasure during the past couple of years, you probably had to make lodging reservations in advance. Before doing so, you looked into the hotel, rental unit or other accommodation you were considering.
Near attractions or where you are bound on business? Check.
High-speed internet access? Maybe, maybe not if you were traveling somewhere in West Virginia.
Likewise, if you were planning on opening or expanding a business in the Mountain State, access to broadband service was a consideration.
More than 550,000 West Virginians lack access to high-speed internet service, according to a Federal Communications Commission report. The vast majority of them, more than 460,000, live in rural areas.
Expanding access to broadband service in West Virginia has been a priority among communications companies as well as state and federal governments during the past few years. Much has been accomplished, but clearly, a lot remains to be done.
Priorities need to be set. No one - neither the private sector nor government - has the resources to extend high-speed service to everywhere in our state, at least not during the foreseeable future. How can we use our resources to do the most good for the most people?
Another recent study, this one asking chambers of commerce and economic development agencies about broadband, hints at the answer. Nearly 45 percent of respondents to the study survey indicated that 91-100 percent of businesses in their counties “would see substantive improvement in their daily operations through doubled broadband speeds.”
Businesses provide jobs. West Virginia needs more of them. Clearly, then, providing high-speed internet service to businesses - perhaps targeting the tourism industry - needs to be the top priority. If that is not already the case, it needs to be.
The Intelligencer on sports gambling:
No one knows how much money Americans wager on sporting events, simply because much of the betting is done illegally. Estimates are mind-boggling, however.
One is that annual betting on the Super Bowl alone tops $8 billion. Another is that $30 billion to $40 billion a year is wagered on professional baseball games.
We have some solid figures, however, from the handful of states where sports betting is legal. In Nevada, for example, casinos handled $3.2 billion in sports bets during one recent year.
Why shouldn’t West Virginians get a cut?
There are two reasons: First, allowing casinos or anyone else to handle sports bets is not legal in our state. Second, it is not legal anywhere in the United States, except Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Only the first two actually have sports betting.
But New Jersey officials have filed a lawsuit challenging the national ban. In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case. If New Jersey wins, it and some other states will be off to the races (pun intended).
West Virginia may or may not be among them.
Earlier this year, during the Legislature’s regular annual session, a bill that would have permitted sports betting in casinos was introduced. Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was a lead sponsor. His argument is that the state needs revenue sports betting could generate.
That bill went nowhere.
But a few days ago, it was revealed the state Lottery Commission has awarded a $160,000 contract to a California firm to study the impact sports betting could have in West Virginia. Also to be analyzed is what allowing internet gambling could do for the state.
Good for Lottery Commission officials for getting their ducks in a row, on sports betting specifically and internet wagering generally.
There are ethical considerations, of course. But they existed years ago, when other forms of gambling were legalized in the Mountain State. Rightly or wrongly, West Virginians reached a consensus that local and state governments needed the money, and legalized gambling should proceed.
The same view would be taken of expanded legalized gambling, we feel certain.
Lawmakers should follow the Lottery Commission’s lead and have bills on sports and internet gambling ready when the Legislature convenes in early January. Care will have to be taken in writing the measures. For example, the state needs to insist on a reasonable share of proceeds of any type of gambling.
Along with consideration of expanded gambling, lawmakers and taxpayers need to understand that if it happens in West Virginia, the windfall will be only temporary. It will last only until other states hop on the bandwagon - as they will.
Still, Fluharty is right. In terms of new revenue for the state, expanded gambling may be a good bet.
The Herald-Dispatch on overdose tracking:
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.
An estimated 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States- more than car wrecks. The increase has been dramatic, with the number of these deaths doubling in less than 10 years, so there is a lot we don’t know and understand.
But considering the scope of the problem, it is time to start paying more attention to the details, as researchers and health officials stressed during a workshop in Huntington last week. That means not just tracking overdose deaths, but tracking every overdose - what happened, when and where - and what sort of follow-up took place.
A new real-time mapping program developed by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency in the Washington/Baltimore area appears to be an important step toward gathering more of that information and gaining a greater understanding of the crisis we are facing.
The program, which is already in use in several parts of the country, allows emergency responders to quickly report overdoses as they happen with just a few clicks on their cell phone. Their entry records whether the overdose was fatal and whether reviving drugs such as naloxone were used. The program records the time and location from the phone and GPS coordinates and maps the event immediately.
Already the areas using the program have been able to better respond to their overdose problems, and in many cases, anticipate them.
For example, one agency found that there was a higher incidence of overdoses on weekend nights, when its staffing was weakest, and were able to adjust schedules to better respond.
In areas where the program has been in use for a while, agencies have been able to identify geographical patterns. Overdoses go up in certain areas of Baltimore, and within hours, overdoses start happening in surrounding communities. Now when there is a spike of overdoses in one community, communities that are part of that pattern receive computer alerts automatically.
With this type of information, first responders are better prepared for overdose emergencies and can even be accompanied by counselors and treatment experts on the scene.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, stressed that each of those overdoses is a “cry for help” and an opportunity for intervention. But too often that does not happen, he said, noting that despite all the media attention given to Huntington’s 28 overdoses one day last August, not a single survivor entered a treatment program.
Out of necessity, our communities have become more adept at responding to overdose situations and saving lives. But we need to utilize every tool available to prevent the next overdose and help drug users find a road to recovery.
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