A1 A1
Girl Scouts celebrate inaugural Badge Day in Huntington

HUNTINGTON — More than 23 years after the first Boy Scout Badge Day was held at Marshall University, area Girl Scouts finally got their chance to earn badges after a day of learning skills on campus from Marshall professors and employees.

Hosted by the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council and Marshall, the inaugural event took place at the Memorial Student Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The inaugural event is modeled after the Boy Scout event that has been going on for 23 years.

Kelli Johnson, associate university librarian and head of access services at Marshall, said the event came about at the request of Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, who wanted more equality for the girls after sitting in on the Black Diamond Council’s “State of the Girls” panel hosted at the university last year.

Even though there were only about 50 girls who attended Saturday’s event — compared to 600 who attend the Boys Scout event — Johnson said it was going to “rock harder and be better” than the boys’ event. While she thought the event would be attended only by local girls, she said a few drove several hours to attend.

“I want them to feel that they are now daughters of Marshall. You know … this obviously isn’t a recruitment event,” she said. “This is an event where we can show folks that we have some expertise here on campus and we want to share it with the community.”

Lila Mangus, membership delivery manager at Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, said if the girls go away learning just one small thing, the event would be successful.

“I just want them to walk away knowing something before they came in here,” she said. “I hope (the event) gives them knowledge and maybe sparks an interest that they have that they didn’t know they had.”

For some of the girls, it was their first on-campus experience, giving them their first view of what higher education could look like for them in the future.

The event gives the Scouts a chance to advance in their skills to move up in their ranks faster. The girls focused on two badges to master throughout the day. Badges offered to the Scouts included Think Like a Programmer, Product Design, Financing My Dreams, Website Design and College Knowledge.

The activities were hosted by Marshall faculty and staff who volunteered their time for the event. The volunteers were prepped ahead of time on the specific teaching requirements needed for the badges to be received.

Additional information about college admissions, financial aid, and clubs and organizations on campus was also shared.

Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council serves more than 20,000 girls in 59 counties in West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. Johnson expects the Badge Day event will grow in the future because everyone involved wants to see it as a larger event.

“If there’s something they want to learn, something they need help with, the faculty and staff here at Marshall are here to help them and (show them) that they’re truly daughters of Marshall,” she said.

Mangus encouraged anyone interested in joining to contact the Black Diamond’s Charleston office at 304-345-7722.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

Retailers already announcing free delivery during holiday season

HUNTINGTON — With six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, some big-box stores have already announced free delivery during the holiday season in 2019.

This year, starting Nov. 1 through Dec. 21, Target shoppers can get thousands of items shipped for free, with no minimum purchase required. And bargain hunters will have their pick of 1,500 curated gifts, most of which will cost less than $15.

Target wasn’t alone in unveiling its holiday plans. Though Christmas is nearly two months away, retailers are already shifting into holiday mode, with Walmart, Best Buy and others making announcements about ramped-up delivery.

Walmart is gearing up for a shorter holiday shopping season by launching online deals earlier this year. Last week, the retail giant announced its plans to help consumers get an early start on purchasing gifts with new and expanded services, more exclusive toys and events including visits from Santa.

This year, Best Buy is attempting to making it easier — and faster — to get the tech on everyone’s wish lists.

According to a news release from Best Buy, about 99% of its customers get free next-day delivery on thousands of items.

“From tablets to headphones to espresso machines, tons of the most popular holiday items are included,” the release said.

However, it excludes some bigger and heavier things like big-screen TVs and refrigerators.

Best Buy added that for those who ordered something, or live somewhere where free next-day delivery isn’t available, they will still get free standard shipping on everything — all season long, and with no membership or minimum purchase required.

This year, “Free Shipping Day” will be Dec. 14, according to www.freeshippingday.com. On Free Shipping Day, thousands of online retailers, both large and small, offer free shipping and guarantee items by Christmas Eve.

To view a list of retailers participating in Free Shipping Day, visit www.freeshippingday.com.

Each year the number of stores participating in Free Shipping Day increases. Many stores announce their participation early, but quite a few jump in as the date grows near.

According to the annual National Retail Federation holiday survey, consumers will spend an average of $1,047, which is up 4% from last year. The survey also showed that 39% will start their holiday shopping in November.

Sales are projected to rise 3.8% in November and December to $727.9 billion, according to the survey. It also showed that 92% of consumers plan to take advantage of free shipping, 48% will use ship-to-store pickup services and 16% plan to use same-day delivery, which has doubled since 2015.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

New addiction, old habits compound West Virginia dental health woes

HUNTINGTON — Even under the smothering toll of addiction, the human body has a remarkable capacity to repair itself.

Track marks will fade into a healthier skin tone, sunken cheeks will refill, and eventually the brain will even rewire the synapses addiction overwrote to fuel itself.

But teeth don’t grow back, and it’s often one of the first spots on the body that addiction physically shows itself. In West Virginia, like many states, where Medicaid covers only emergency extraction but not the replacement of teeth through dentures and partials, it’s likely tens of thousands of both active and recovered drug users have no means to a full set of teeth once they’re gone.

It’s beyond a cosmetic concern, professionals and those who suffer agree, and it remains a major barrier, yet lightly discussed, to cultivating productive citizens beyond their addiction.

“I don’t believe you’re going to get a truly functional adult without rehabilitating their teeth as well,” said Dr. Daniel Brody, a clinical dentist of 35 years practicing at Valley Health Westmoreland in Huntington. “And there’s very little resources out there for folks who need to have their teeth replaced.”

West Virginia’s state government has no mechanism to provide prosthodontics — like dentures and partials — to its citizens, though many of those suffering from addiction are Medicaid eligible. The resources that do exist to connect individuals with new teeth are scattered, localized and often rely purely on the goodwill of certain providers.

Work can be done at one of the seven free dental clinics across West Virginia, including the Ebenezer Medical Outreach in Huntington, though the waiting lists stretch back months. A few local providers, like Valley Health, are federally subsidized to treat and bill patients based on their ability to pay, but they’re often slammed with work, too. Some treatment centers, like Recovery Point Huntington, may facilitate free dental work for their clients with local clinics, though that arrangement only allows for three clients per month.

While most people suffering from addiction have varying degrees of dental decay, it’s likely caused by both the drugs themselves and the unhealthy lifestyle choices typical of those suffering.

Toothaches are among the first side effects of ongoing drug use, making dentists often the first — and sometimes only — medical care a person who used drugs may see. Those first signs are now common sights for dentists across the region, and Brody has traveled nationwide this past year lecturing other oral health providers on how to spot addiction.

Narcotics like heroin, methamphetamine and prescription pills tend to dry the mouth of saliva, diminishing its protective and restorative effect on teeth. Meth in particular, which is more often smoked than heroin, is especially acidic. A person’s diet tends to become more refined, particularly high in sugar, and their overall personal hygiene tends to be a second thought.

Another major cause of tooth decay in those currently in recovery is from Suboxone — an oral strip given to those in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to ween an individual from their withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone itself is highly acidic, with a pH of about 3.4 — the same as tomato juice — and patients are told to let it dissolve in their mouths as long as possible.

“The problem is that most folks come in medication-assisted treatment already compromised, so by the time (dentists) get to see them, the teeth are so far gone that there’s not a lot you can do other than extract the teeth,” Brody said.

“I don’t think I’ve had one patient that I’ve seen that’s in a MAT program that doesn’t have decay to the point they have to lose their teeth.”

Replacing a person’s teeth may also substantially increase their chances of completing a recovery program, according to a University of Utah study Brody referenced.

As in West Virginia, Utah’s Medicaid does not cover prosthodontics. When the university’s School of Dentistry was granted a state Medicaid waiver to provide dentures and partials for people in a MAT program, the study found 80% of those who had dental treatment completed their recovery.

“It destigmatizes the patient. It helps them to find employment. They’re going to eat a less refined diet that they can chew properly, and that’d be a real issue if they’re diabetic on top of all that,” Brody said.

A reason to smileAs the rest of Recovery Point Huntington’s roughly 120 clients clattered on in their classes and daily chores recently, Richard Myers and Robert Bain dutifully scrubbed away at the new teeth prior to being photographed. The value of a bright smile had never in their lives been more valuable, having lived the lives they have.

Myers, a 36-year-old Elkview, West Virginia, native, became addicted to prescription painkillers in 2002 after an injury while in the Marine Corps. By 2010, he had switched to street drugs, but has since been sober for 13 months.

“When you’re taking opioids, it takes that pain away so you can handle it, but eventually it gets to the point where the tooth is just gone,” Myers said, speaking alongside Bain in one of the center’s meeting rooms.

Bain, a 35-year-old Martinsburg, West Virginia, resident, had been an alcoholic since his early teens. A string of assorted misdemeanors eventually led to heavier charges, and in January he was sentenced — in a hearing he missed because he had been drinking — to complete Recovery Point’s program. He’s now nine months sober.

Both men had their teeth rot to the point their top teeth, and some of their bottom ones, had to be extracted — with no means to replace them.

“A lot of things run through your head — about your appearance and just thinking like, ‘What woman would want me?’” Myers recalled.

“That was my self-confidence just gone,” Bain added. “I was never smiling or anything. I just didn’t like my appearance at that time.”

If it weren’t for what Myers compared to winning the lottery, their teeth would have been the same as in the lowest point in their lives. Both men were selected as one of Recovery Point’s three prosthodontic recipients per month — with Bain’s still so new he couldn’t yet apply a full bite.

“Now I don’t have to worry about the pain or the embarrassment of my looks. It’s brought my self-confidence up tremendously,” Bain said. “I can look in the mirror and feel good about myself now.”

It sounds minor for those fortunate enough to have a full, healthy set of teeth, but that confidence can propel a person through the recovery program, Myers and Bain agreed.

“Every little thing toward getting our confidence back is great because we’ve been through so much as far as relationships, losing your kids, or this and that,” Myers said. “Every little thing that’s good that happens, we latch onto it, and it helps.”

“I carry myself with a little bit of dignity now,” Bain added.

Both were cognizant of how lucky they got, and the scope of the need.

“There’s 120 guys here that need teeth worked on — it’s not enough. It’s just by the grace of God that they got us in,” Myers said.

“This right here,” he waved toward a porcelain white half-grin, “this is a big deal. It really helps.”

A deeply rooted problem, with signs of improvementWest Virginia has long dragged the bottom in adult dental health compared with the rest of the nation. For generations, the caricature of Appalachians as a whole has mockingly left out a few teeth to reflect that stereotype.

But there’s no substantial evidence widespread addiction has exacerbated West Virginia’s existing dental health problems over the past decade, said Dr. Jason Roush, West Virginia state dental director.

Roush noted the lifestyle of a refined, sugary diet and poor hygiene — which are frequent with or without addiction — is probably as much to blame for West Virginia’s continual dental woes.

“Sometimes it’s not drugs; sometimes it’s the Mountain Dew,” Roush said in a call recently. “So is it the drugs or is it the behavior associated with the drug use?”

While West Virginia does continue to lag behind in adult oral health, Roush noted there have been quantifiable improvements statewide.

In 2016, 57.5% of West Virginia adults 65 and older had lost six or more teeth due to decay, down from 65.1% in 2012, according to the national Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. By comparison, 36% of adults 65 and older had lost that many teeth nationwide.

More than 30% of West Virginia adults 65 and older had lost all of their natural teeth in 2016, according to the data, down from 33.7% in 2012. The national average for adults with no natural teeth was 14.4% in 2016.

“With respect to adult oral health in general, we’re still below the national norm, but we’re seeing progress,” Roush said.

As for expanding safety net programs, Roush noted West Virginia offers emergency extraction through Medicaid, though it is not required by law. He added that he’d like to see the existing system improved upon first — including redirecting emergency patients from ER visits to those free clinics, better communication between dental providers and other medical branches, and continued prevention education.

“We’ve done the best we can in regards to adult oral health,” Roush said.

As hundreds of municipalities begin to seek compensation for the opioid epidemic from major drug manufacturers, a potential lump sum settlement could, and should, help fund oral services not covered through Medicaid, Brody added in a follow-up email.

“I can’t help but feel that a portion of any settlement should be set aside for (substance use disorder) patients that are actively undergoing treatment for oral health services not covered by Medicaid (such as dentures, partial dentures), maybe in the form of a voucher,” Brody wrote.

He specifically referenced Cabell County as an example, which is seeking a $500 million settlement to address the impact of the opioid epidemic.