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Thousands of students turn out for 'Game Changer' summit

HUNTINGTON — Through a thick and well-worn New England accent, Chris Herren told a story recognizable to any one of the roughly 3,000 West Virginia high school students gathered Wednesday at the Cam Henderson Center on Marshall University's campus.

A McDonald's All-American out of high school and a highly touted prospect entering the 1999 NBA Draft, the Massachusetts native Herren's professional, once-promising basketball career was derailed by repeated substance abuse — starting with alcohol, then prescription painkillers, then heroin.

Herren, who now advocates publicly for prevention and treatment, headlined the two-day Game Changer Opioid Awareness Summit, hosted Tuesday at West Virginia University and Wednesday at Marshall University, for West Virginia's high school students.

The events were organized by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) and MVB Bank, along with the two universities, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and the West Virginia Governor's Office.

Students from more than a dozen high schools across southern West Virginia attended, including as far away as Greenbrier West.

The two-hour event also included presentations by inspirational speaker and author Rhonda Sciortino, who shared her own rags-to-riches story, and youth empowerment performer and musician Shaun Derik.

The summit kicked off the WVSSAC's Game Changer Initiative, a student awareness campaign focused on prevention, compassionate treatment programs, and educational and employment opportunities.

It all comes with accepting the fact that West Virginia has a deeply rooted addiction problem, and that curtailing it for future generations begins with teaching the youth today, said Joe Boczek, owner-president of JB Business Strategies, who organized the WVSSAC event.

"If we can get to the kids through education and prevention as well as the adults, we have a chance to severely diminish the opioid damages in West Virginia," Boczek said.

The majority of students affected by opioid addiction, however, have never touched an illegal drug, he continued, but rather suffer at home as the byproduct of a family member's addiction. The summit was therefore just as geared to arming students with prevention resources available for their families as well.

Though the drugs change, summits like Wednesday's aren't unlike the ones used for tobacco and alcohol prevention, added Tammy Collins, a prevention scientist at Marshall's Center of Excellence for Recovery. Whether it's heroin or cigarettes, the prevention tools students need are the same.

"It's all about social and emotional learning," Collins said. "Kids really need self-regulation — being able to understand and regulate their own thoughts and feelings — and self-efficacy — the belief that they can make themselves and their state better."

The two events were also supported financially by a $50,000 contribution from Walmart.

WV victim notification enhanced, expanded

CHARLESTON — West Virginia has strengthened an important tool that supports, protects and empowers crime victims and survivors by providing timely and reliable offender information.

The state's Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has expanded the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) network to all 10 regional jails. It also has adopted VINE's new and enhanced features for all correctional facilities, including state prisons.

"It is very important for safety, for victims to be notified or to be able to know when the offender is getting back onto the street or has posted bond," said Commissioner Betsy Jividen in a release.

Appriss Safety is the developer of VINE, a free service that allows victims to anonymously check an offender's custody status by phone, internet and mobile app. Victims can also receive real-time alerts of changes to an offender's custody status by registering for notifications by app, phone, email and text.

"They can rest easy at night, knowing where the perpetrator is," said Tonia Thomas, a team coordinator with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "And when perpetrators get released, they can also prepare for that release and maybe prepare for their safety and take extra precautions."

Enhanced VINE offers users more functionality and expanded access to victim services. West Virginia began extending VINE to the regional jails in May. It completed that process with the final two jails this week.

"We are thrilled that the citizens of West Virginia are now able to benefit from a more streamlined user experience, and that we are able to increase accessibility to victim-centered services that will help guide them on their road to recovery," said Josh Bruner, Appriss Safety president.

The enhanced system's new features include an interactive VINE Service Provider Directory that allows users seeking assistance to connect directly with both local and national victim service providers. To date, 16 West Virginia service providers have joined the VINE Service Provider Directory.

West Virginia's rape crisis centers have long worked with VINE, which corrections officials first adopted in 2002. The network has become part of their safety planning for sexual assault victims, said State Coordinator Nancy Hoffman of the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services Inc.

"As the state's sexual assault coalition, we applaud the expansion of VINE to include the regional jails," Hoffman said. "Sexual assault cases often have a lengthy process through the criminal justice system. Safety is of paramount concern to victims of sexual violence, and knowing when an offender charged with sexual assault is released from jail on bond prior to a trial enables victims to plan for their safety and take additional precautions (such as protective orders) as needed."

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said VINE goes hand-in-hand with his office's Victims Services Unit and that of other law enforcement agencies.

"It's one of the most important jobs we have, to help the victims of various crimes, particularly the more personal type of crime such as domestic violence or sexual assault," Rutherford said. "Even breaking into your home or business can be devastating to a lot of people. Once you're the victim of a crime, it's really something that affects you deeply. It affects your family. It affects everything you do."

The recent consolidation of West Virginia's correctional system helped facilitate VINE's expansion, which required no state funding thanks to federal Victims of Crime Act grants.

To access the enhanced West Virginia VINE service, visit www.vinelink.com.

"It is very important for safety, for victims to be notified or to be able to know when the offender is getting back onto the street or has posted bond."

Betsy Jividen Commissioner

Trump bars Calif. from setting stricter fuel standards

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his administration is revoking California's authority to set auto mileage standards stricter than those issued by federal regulators, a move critics said would result in less fuel efficient cars that create more planet-warming pollution.

In a tweet, Trump said his action would result in less expensive, safer cars. He also predicted Americans would purchase more new cars, which would result in cleaner air as older models are taken off the roads.

"Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business," Trump tweeted.

U.S. automakers contend that without year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency that align with global market realities their vehicles could be less competitive, potentially resulting in job losses.

However, most of the industry favors increases in standards that are less than the Obama-era requirements, saying their consumers are gravitating to gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks rather than buying more efficient cars.

Top California officials and environmental groups pledged legal action on Wednesday to stop the rollback, potentially tying up the issue for years in federal courts. The U.S. transportation sector is the nation's biggest single source of greenhouse gasses.

"You can't get serious about climate change unless you are serious about vehicle emissions, said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. "This is such a pivotal moment in the history of the climate change debate."

It's not clear yet what the Trump administration will propose as its final fuel-efficiency rules, but in the past it has favored freezing Obama-era mileage standards at 2021 levels. Under the Obama administration requirements, the fleet of new vehicles would have to average 30 mpg in real-world driving by 2021, rising to 36 mpg in 2025. Currently the standard is 26 mpg.

Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency contends that freezing the fuel economy standards will reduce the average sticker price of new vehicles by about $2,700 by 2025, though that predicted savings is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the EPA estimates from the prior administration.

Trump's tweet does not address the money consumers would save at the gas pump if cars got better mileage. A study released by Consumer Reports in August found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.

Trump's claim that his proposal would result in a cleaner environment is contrary to his own administration's estimate that by freezing economy standards U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2% to 3% increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution.

The administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But The Associated Press reported last year that internal EPA emails show senior career officials privately questioned the administration's calculations, saying the proposed freeze would actually modestly increase highway fatalities, by about 17 deaths annually.

Trump traveled to California for GOP fundraising events Tuesday and Wednesday near San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

California's authority to set its own, tougher emissions standards goes back to a waiver issued by Congress during passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. In 2007, when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, President George W. Bush's administration denied California's bid to place first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars and trucks. But the state asked the EPA to reconsider its decision, and in 2009 — when Democratic President Barack Obama took office — the feds granted California's request.

California has 35 million registered vehicles, the most of any state. A dozen other states and the District of Columbia also follow California's fuel economy standards.