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Kenny Kemp/HD Media  

Shoppers enter the Kanawha City Kmart on Friday. The retailer’s parent company issued a news release Thursday announcing plans to close the store in February.

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispat 

Student body Vice President Anna Williams welcomes everyone to Marshall University's annual Take Back the Night event on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, at the Memorial Student Center n Huntington.

LCDD cuts services, jobs due to levy failure

COAL GROVE, Ohio — When the Lawrence County Developmental Disabilities levy failed to pass last week it also had the unintended consequences of a cut in services as well as laying off of employees.

Officials with the Lawrence County Developmental Disabilities (LCDD) say the agency was forced to cut services for children, students and adults, as well as laying off employees due to the failure of a levy in last week’s election.

“We were hoping to delay layoffs as long as we could,” said Julie Monroe, superintendent for LCDD. “But after meeting with the finance committee and reviewing our future funding, we realized that it was not going to be possible.”

Cuts to the agency included a layoff of two educators in the school program, a specialist in the early intervention program, a secretarial position in the service and support program, custodial staff, a service and support administrator, a fiscal specialist and eliminate contracted receptionist services. These duties will need to be absorbed by other staff members around the agency, Monroe said.

“With less staff, unfortunately services to people are just not going to be what they are now,” Monroe said. “We’re having to operate our services with less.”

LCDD had requested an additional 2.5 millage levy that would have helped to maintain as well as expand services to roughly 500 people in the county with developmental disabilities. The levy failed by 354 votes with 6,596 voting for the levy and 6,950 voting against it, according to unofficial totals from the Lawrence County Board of Elections.

The levy would have produced $3 million in new revenue each year. The tax would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $87.50 per year in taxes. The board already receives $2,345,671 per year through a continuing levy.

The board operates the Open Door School in Coal Grove and the Early Childhood Development Center in Sheridan.

Student enrollment at Open Door School, a school that provides special education to students from all districts in Lawrence County, is expected to freeze enrollment, eliminate its adaptive physical education program and eliminate community activities for students, such as field trips and community engagement activities, according to Tim Nunnery, communications and resource development director.

Along with a freeze in activities for students, LCDD will not be able to provide any more services to anymore adults in the county who are on a current waiting list, as LCDD is expected to match the cost of those services with Medicaid funding, Nunnery said.

“Transportation services, in-home care, enrollment in day facilities, they are all going to have to freeze,” Nunnery said. “People need to understand what the levy failure has cost the county. Unless there are needs that are deemed immediate, we can’t enroll anyone on the waiting list into our programs, we can’t provide students throughout the county with services that transition them to life after school, and we can’t increase the amount of children in our early intervention program.

“We’re seeing the rise in autism in our youth, we hear about it all the time. Now our numbers are going to have to be capped for those kids. This levy failure has really been gut-wrenching.”

However, LCDD isn’t giving up just yet, Nunnery added. The agency plans to try again to pass the levy, and they’re hoping this setback has opened the eyes of people in county, he said.

A group on Facebook was formed called M.O.M., which stands for Moms On a Mission, to support the agency. The group was created by community members who have taken action to get the LCDD back on the ballot as soon as possible.

In just two days, the group grew to over 2,700 members and is rallying support in the county to ensure that LCDD has another chance at passing its levy.

Members from the group will be set up at locations in the county to garner signatures for a petition to go back on the ballot in the March primary, according to Nunnery.

If the levy passes on its next run, LCDD officials say that they can complete a budget revision to begin reinstating employees and services. However if the levy fails again, further cuts would need to be made to the agency, Nunnery added.

Officials from LCDD plan to meet with the county commissioners this week to discuss their options.

First patient receives implant in WVU's deep-brain stimulation trial to cure addiction

MORGANTOWN  — Efforts by researchers at West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and WVU Medicine are underway as an initial patient received a device as part of the facility's clinical trial of using deep brain stimulation to fight opioid addiction.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, officials with WVU announced the launch of the trial — the first of its kind in the U.S. — as the team successfully implanted a Medtronic DBS device in the addiction and reward center of a patient's brain. The trial’s first participant is a 33-year-old man, who has struggled with substance use disorder, specifically excessive opioid and benzodiazepine use, for more than a decade with multiple overdoses and relapses.

Funded through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the clinical trial is led by principal investigator, Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair of the RNI, and a multidisciplinary team of neurosurgical, psychiatric, neuroscience and other experts.

Rezai, in a previous interview with The Herald-Dispatch, likened the implanted device to an in-brain pacemaker, which has been used for more than 30 years already to treat Parkinson's disease — though this is the first time the device will be applied to addiction in the United States.

The trial will involve multiple outside partners and teams including neurologists, psychologists and case workers to track each patient's progress, as well as studying the biomarkers associated with addiction in each patient's brain during treatment.

"Addiction is a brain condition, and in addiction you have to deal with our biology as well as our environment," Rezai said, "and we need to explore new technologies, such as the use of DBS, to help those severely impacted by opioid use disorder.”

The initial two-year study will mainly serve as a proof of concept and safety before expanding to a 16-patient randomized and controlled study in the second phase.

West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids. In 2017, drug overdose deaths involving opioids in West Virginia occurred at a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to NIDA.

The first phase of this clinical trial involves four participants. To qualify, patients will have failed standards of care across multiple levels of WVU Medicine’s comprehensive inpatient, residential and outpatient treatment programs that include medication, as well as psychological and social recovery efforts.

“Despite our best efforts using current, evidence-based treatment modalities, there exist a number of patients who simply don’t respond. Some of these patients remain at very high risk for ongoing catastrophic health problems and even death. DBS could prove to be a valuable tool in our fight to keep people alive and well,” said Dr. James Berry, interim chair of the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and director of Addiction Services at RNI, in a news release.

DBS, or brain pacemaker surgery, involves implantation of tiny electrodes into specific brain areas to regulate the structures involved in addiction and behavioral self-control. This study will also investigate the mechanism of the addiction in the brain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved DBS for treating patients with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, dystonia, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The RNI team routinely uses DBS to treat patients with these disorders, according to WVU officials.

Rising popularity of vaping blamed for drop in WV's tobacco settlement payment

West Virginia’s annual payment from major cigarette manufacturers dropped by more than $1.6 million, as rising popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping has accelerated the decline in tobacco consumption, members of a state board that monitors tobacco settlement payments learned last week.

The state’s 2019 payment as part of the national Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was $59.6 million, down from $61.26 million in 2018, members of the state Tobacco Settlement Finance Authority were advised.

Citigroup financial adviser Paul Creedon told the panel Thursday that cigarette sales in 2018 — the year that the 2019 payment is based on — fell 4.72 percent.

“It was a steeper decline than originally anticipated,” he said.

For the first three quarters of 2019, sales have dropped another 5.5 percent, he said, leading cigarette manufacturing giant Altria to accelerate its projections for declines in sales from between 4 percent to 5 percent a year to 5 percent to 6 percent annually.

Creedon said industry analysts point to the rapid rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, or vaping, for the accelerating decline in sales of conventional cigarettes.

However, one factor that could slow that decline, he said, is that a number of localities and the federal government are looking at banning flavored e-cigarette pods, which are believed to be effective in enticing young people to take up vaping.

“The general sense is, if these bans go into effect in a significant way, it could actually benefit combustible cigarettes,” Creedon said.

Asked if legalization of marijuana in many jurisdictions around the country is affecting cigarette sales, he said, “For right now, I don’t think we’ve seen a significant identifiable impact of legal cannabis.”

West Virginia, under then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw, was one of the first states to sue major cigarette manufacturers to help cover the future costs of treating smoking-related diseases.

In 1998, McGraw signed off on the national settlement agreement, worth at least $1.8 billion to West Virginia, to be paid in annual payments in perpetuity, based on total domestic cigarette sales.

In 2007, the state sold the rights to its next 25 years of payments to bondholders, raising $911 million from the sale of tobacco settlement bonds. The state used $807 million of those funds to shore up the then-critically underfunded Teachers Retirement System pension fund, and put most of the remainder into a reserve fund.

That fund was set up to make up the difference in years when the tobacco settlement payment falls below the $62 million minimum annual payment that the state makes to bondholders.

When the agreement was signed in 1998, projections were that cigarette consumption would decline at a steady rate of 3 percent a year. However, the decline accelerated sharply beginning around 2009, as a number of states and municipalities hiked tobacco taxes and many localities enacted strict smoking bans, Creedon noted.

However, bondholders bear the risk should there be a sudden, severe cessation in smoking nationwide.

The five-member board, chaired by Administration Secretary Allan McVey, meets annually to review tobacco settlement fund finances, and to be updated on tobacco consumption trends nationally.

Toledo too tough for Herd

HUNTINGTON — The Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team (1-1) fell to the Toledo Rockets (1-1) 96-70 on Sunday afternoon at the Cam Henderson Center.

“They (Toledo) were well coached,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said after the loss. “They shot the tar out of it, especially early. It hurt us because it was our mistakes. We had opportunities to stay right with them. We had open shots and missed them. We missed a dunk. I think Beyers had three wide-open threes, who is considered our best shooter. They have to go down when you’re playing a team that won 25 games and went to the NIT last year.”

Junior guard Jarrod West and sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey each scored 20 points.

Read more about the game on Page 1B

— The Herald-Dispatch