Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Journal on the state's incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS:
Health care researchers in West Virginia have become experts on neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. Unfortunately, in-state expertise is necessary. Our state's incidence of NAS is very high.
NAS — a term that may sound to some like no more than one more bureaucratic acronym — is a condition of newborn babies whose mothers abused opioid drugs. In effect, the infants come into the world addicted to opioids. Withdrawal can be excruciating for them. Adverse health effects can persist for years.
This is not someone else's tragedy. In 2017, nearly 4% of babies born in Jefferson and Berkeley counties suffered from NAS, according to the DHHR. The state rate was about 5.1%.
Many babies born in our region were lucky, in a way. DHHR statistics for 2017 show of babies born who were exposed to opioid substances, most of the infants escaped NAS.
Though substance abuse is a national epidemic affecting many states, most others have not mounted thorough studies of NAS. National statistics, in fact, seem to be current only through 2014.
By the end of that year, federal health officials estimated the cost to U.S. hospitals of treating NAS babies at half a billion dollars a year.
Various initiatives have been launched in efforts to curb NAS. They rely primarily on educating women of childbearing age about illicit drug use.
Clearly, more needs to be done. But what?
Opioid addiction can leave victims virtually helpless. If a woman is hooked when she becomes pregnant, the chance of getting "clean" while the baby is in her womb is slim. There are treatments, however.
Clearly, doing more to prevent NAS and to help babies afflicted by it needs to be a very high priority in West Virginia. The goal should be to make our state, already a leader in identifying the problem, the standard-bearer in solving it.
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on how the state's students responded to a survey about bullying at school:
Improving public schools has been a recurring topic among educators, legislators and many other West Virginians during the past couple of years. One advance would be to ensure all children are in the right frame of mind to learn.
Youngsters who are afraid suffer in that regard. And, to judge by a national survey, a disturbing percentage of Mountain State high school students are not entirely secure all the time in that regard.
High school students throughout the United States are surveyed regularly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are asked a wide range of questions about their wellbeing. Included are queries about everything from diet to driving, drugs to dating. One series of data involves issues such as bullying and safety at school.
West Virginia's sample size — between 1,400 and 1,500 student responses to most questions — is noticeably larger than the number in many other states. That lends credibility to results of what the CDC terms its High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Here are a few of the questions:
Students were asked whether they had ever been bullied while on school property. Of West Virginia respondents, 23.7% said yes. The national average was much lower, at 19%.
Had they ever been electronically bullied? Yes, said 18.5% of Mountain State respondents. The national average was lower, at 17.2%. Interestingly, the CDC's survey a decade ago did not even register responses to that question.
Had they ever been in a fight on school property? In West Virginia, 6.2% said yes, compared to 8.5% nationally.
They also were asked whether they had ever been threatened with or injured by a weapon while on school property. Yes, said 6.5% of students surveyed in our state. The national average was 6%.
A shocking 9.4% of Mountain State students said they had attempted suicide during the 12 months prior to the survey. That was two points higher than the national average.
Bullying, both physical and psychological, seems to be a problem everywhere — but worse in West Virginia. Doing more to reduce the number of victims would do a great deal toward improving how many students do in school.
Charleston Gazette-Mail on the future of the state's coal and natural gas industries:
No matter how badly politicians or regional coal barons would like to sell West Virginians on the idea of coal's resurgence, the writing has been on the wall for some time.
The major consumers that matter, energy companies, have been shifting away from coal since the mid-2000s, regardless of EPA restrictions or rolling those restrictions back. And, for the energy companies, it's not an issue of climate change. It's about the money. Natural gas is cheaper and, in some markets, renewables are becoming just as competitive in cost and efficiency.
So what's the big deal? West Virginia is sitting on plenty of natural gas and can still make plenty of money off of that, right?
The first problem for West Virginia is that the money coming into the state from the gas industry is mainly construction — building the pipelines that will pump the stuff elsewhere. Of course, a cracker plant or storage hub — as has been discussed in the past — could help the state maintain more jobs and see more revenue from gas, but talk has not yet turned into a plan or contract.
The more glaring problem is that West Virginia may be trading one fading industry just to go all in on another.
Natural gas, while not perhaps the sooty smokestack that coal is, still emits greenhouse gasses. According to a recent article in The New York Times, many energy companies are looking to rid their portfolios of both coal and natural gas as they try to drastically decrease emissions, or simply because it makes better financial sense.
It's unlikely that the demise of natural gas is imminent. As The Times points out, energy companies still plan to build around 150 new gas-fired power plants in the coming years, which will necessitate more pipelines. And the Southeast is still a market where natural gas is expected to rule, for a time, because of its relatively low cost and abundance.
Still, in the long run, it's worth asking whether West Virginia should put all of its economic hopes on another, inevitably finite extraction resource right after enduring the painful mark coal has left on the state in so many different ways. And the verdict on natural gas will come much quicker than the long slide of the coal industry.
This state, the rest of the country and the entire world are already seeing the havoc climate change has wrought, and some major decisions will have to be made within the next 10 years. Energy companies are realizing they don't have a future if the planet doesn't have one, either.
Of course, West Virginia's rugged terrain doesn't lend itself to investing in certain types of renewable energy production or manufacturing, like wind turbines. But there are other options. Research and expanded manufacturing capacity are certainly needed in improving the cost and efficiency (storage, distribution, etc.) of solar power. This state doesn't have to be a slave to the extraction industries just because that's what people here are used to.
Change isn't easy, but, at some point, you just have to embrace it. The stakes are high, so West Virginia should be part of solving the problem. Why shouldn't West Virginia be a leader in the energy revolution?