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Local tattoo artists showcase talent, help break down ink's stigma

IRONTON -- The distinct buzzing sound of multiple tattoo guns provided some ambient background music to the Ro-Na Theater in Ironton on Sunday, the site of a tattoo show hosted by Road Hawk Magazine.

The show featured about a dozen tattoo artists from the Tri-State, who celebrated each other's work and dealt out some fresh ink to those willing to give their bodies a permanent work of art.

It was the first tattoo show hosted solely by Road Hawk Magazine, a monthly digest for bikers. The magazine had been involved in similar shows in the past, but wanted to host their own show to highlight the best artistic talents of the region, said assistant editor Wendy Dunlap.

Dunlap said there couldn't be a better time to have tattoos as the art form continues to gain acceptance in employment and among all age groups. That's why it's important for local talent to have a place to show off their work, she said.

"It's important for artists to have venues, period," Dunlap said. "Around here there are no venues for artists, there are very few. We really wanted to showcase the talent that exists here and that nobody gets to see."

Among that talent Sunday was artist Ben Collins, who previously owned a shop in Huntington before he moved to North Carolina. Collins said he's given people in their 70s their first tattoos and people from all types of professions.

"It's no longer for bikers, gangs and the military anymore," he said.

Mark "Sideshow" Lucas began collecting his tattoos more than 40 years ago, including several inked by Collins. Lucas said more people are getting tattoos that represent statements of their personalities or symbolize their life stories. Lucas himself has a tattoo of a grandfather clock that represents his journey to sobriety and a tattoo of a Creamsicle because he eats three every day.

"I got friends that never had a tattoo in their life, 50 or 60 years old that went and got them," he said. "My wife didn't have any until we got together five years ago. She just turned 49."

Sam Sowards maintained Ohio's oldest tattoo shop in Pomeroy until he retired after 40 years in the business. He said he always recommends newcomers do their research and select a design that is personal to them.

These days, he said, tattooing has become more advanced than ever before with photorealism and other techniques. People no longer have to stick to ship anchors or mom hearts.

"If da Vinci or Michelangelo were alive today, then the 'Mona Lisa' would have been on somebody's back," he said.

Study: 54 out of every 1,000 WV children are affected by opioid use, will need $4B in services

West Virginia holds the nation’s largest share of children who will face devastating, lifelong consequences linked to the opioid crisis, new data shows.

The report, released Wednesday by a New York nonprofit, said 54 out of every 1,000 children in West Virginia were affected by opioid use in 2017.

The state’s figure is at least twice the rate of 17 other states, including those with much larger populations.

The children, most under the age of 12, are more likely to develop an alcohol or drug disorder, more likely to need special education and are 70 times more likely to be obese.

The opioid crisis will likely cost the state $4 billion in services for children affected by the epidemic, the study said.

Money will go toward hospitalization, depression counseling and the criminal justice system — all outcomes associated with children who have a parent with opioid use disorder.

United Hospital Fund, a nonprofit health system, and the Boston Consulting Group are behind the report, which paints an alarming picture of the devastating effects of the opioid crisis on children nationwide. The group studied Americans under age 18.

Researchers said that although the opioid crisis is the deadliest drug epidemic in the country’s history, its long-lasting effects on children have received little attention.

Their research found 2.8 percent of the 74 million children in 2017 were directly affected by parental opioid use or their own use.

“If current trends continue, the number of children affected nationwide by opioid use will rise to an estimated 4.3 million by 2030, and the cumulative lifetime cost will reach $400 billion in additional spending on health care, special education, child welfare and criminal justice,” a release about the report said.

For comparison, the data showed that 1.8 million children have been diagnosed with autism.

The data also shows that:

  • 240,000 children in 2017 had a parent die from an opioid overdose;
  • 1.4 million children have a parent living with opioid use disorder;
  • 170,000 children have an opioid use disorder themselves or have accidentally ingested opioids.

Researchers also looked at the effect of opioid use on states’ foster care systems. The number of children in West Virginia’s foster care system — around 7,000 — has grown in correlation with the opioid epidemic. The state has the highest number per-capita of children in state custody.

A class-action federal lawsuit filed in October claims West Virginia has failed to protect children in its care, alleging rampant issues with overburdened case workers, out-of-state children’s facilities and failure to prepare foster children for adulthood.

The study noted that, despite signs the opioid epidemic had hit an inflection point, the crisis is far from over.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this year showed the national fatal overdose rate had dropped by 5 percent in 2018, the first dip since 1990. The CDC attributed the dip largely to decreases in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses.

UHF included solutions in its report, including creating protocols for emergency responders to connect with children on scene and reducing the stigma of opioid use among people interacting with pregnant women and parents.

“This report shines a light on a population affected by opioids that is often hidden from view,”Suzanne Brundage, director of UHF’s Children’s Health Initiative and study co-author, said. “But these estimates should not cause despair. Instead, they highlight the urgent need to take action now to help these children and their families.”

California has the largest number of children affected by the opioid epidemic, and the state is projected to face a cost of $36 billion for services and care for those children. However, the state’s rate of children affected — 20 per 1,000 children — is still lower than West Virginia’s rate.

Mayor sees tourism potential in historic Fort Gay lock-and-dam complex

FORT GAY — The mayor of Fort Gay, West Virginia, wants to spread far and wide her townspeople’s affection for a unique and historic local landmark.

“People who live around here love our lock and dam, and the lockhouse,” said Joetta Hatfield, “and we’re working on a project that will allow us to share them with everyone.”

Not many people outside the area are aware of it — at least not yet — but Big Sandy Lock and Dam No. 3 spans its namesake river between the towns of Fort Gay on the West Virginia side and Louisa on the Kentucky side.

The lock-and-dam complex was the first of its kind to be built in the United States. Similar dams, called “needle dams” because they used vertical wooden slats, or “needles,” to regulate the flow of water, had been built in Europe but never before in America.

That changed in 1897, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed work on Lock and Dam No. 3. From 1897 to 1925, it allowed riverboats and barge tows to ascend from the lower Big Sandy upstream into the river’s two main tributaries, Tug Fork and Levisa Fork, which merge about a half mile upstream.

After the corps decommissioned and abandoned the lock in 1925, it was more or less ignored. Debris and sediment collected in the lock chamber, the gates rusted and the lockmaster’s house fell into disrepair. About the only people who frequented the area were fishermen, who caught large catfish just downstream from the dam’s man-made waterfall.

The town of Louisa built an overlook so visitors to a riverside park could have an unobstructed view of the locks, but nothing was done on the West Virginia side until Hatfield took the initiative.

“It’s still not easy to get down to the locks, but it used to be even harder,” she said. “We cut some trees, we cut some paths, and we made the walk in a little less steep. Our workers try to keep the area as cleared [of brush] as they can.”

The town of Fort Gay also reacquired the cut-stone lockmaster’s house, which had been used for storage by a local resident. “We’d like to turn it into a welcome center and museum,” Hatfield said. “We recently received a brownfield grant in the amount of $5,000, which will cover the planning phase of the project.”

The first order of business, she said, will be to get the locks and lockmaster’s house declared a National Historical Site.

“We’ve already done that for the old Fort Gay High School building, and given the dam’s first-of-its-kind history, I think getting historic-site recognition for the locks will be an easy thing to do,” she added.

That, in turn, should make it easier to secure funding for improvements — creation of the welcome center, installation of safer walkways between the lockhouse and the locks, and erection of handrails to prevent visitors from falling into the lock chamber or the river.

“Eventually, we’d like to create a riverwalk around the locks,” Hatfield said. “And in our pie-in-the-sky wildest dreams, maybe even a zipline that starts on the Louisa side and comes over the river to the West Virginia side. That’s not likely to happen any time soon, but we can hope.”

The improvements, she added, would also make the site a safer place for anglers: “The fishing is really good here, but the lock area isn’t fished as much as it could be because it’s so difficult to get to.”

All the plans for the locks’ development hinge on funding.

“It’s going to take some time,” Hatfield said. “There’s tons of paperwork to be done. If anyone out there is interested in helping the effort, all they have to do is call me, and I’ll take them on a private tour of the locks.

“I never tire of going out onto the locks and hearing the roar of the water. This was the first needle dam ever built in the United States. That, in itself, is amazing. The place is beautiful, and there’s a real sense of history about it. Other people need to experience that, too.”