HUNTINGTON — It was an evening of spectacular sounds as singer Holly Forbes teamed up with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra for the latest concert in the Picnic with the Pops series.
Saturday’s concert, dubbed a Symphonic Spectacular, took place at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington and featured Forbes — a Catlettsburg, Kentucky, native who last year advanced to the Top 10 of NBC’s singing competition “The Voice” — accompanied by the orchestra on a variety of pop and classic tunes.
Upcoming shows will feature a performance of “Hot Nights and Cool Jazz” featuring Bob Thompson, West Virginia’s ambassador of jazz, at the Ritter Park Amphitheater on Aug. 20, and the orchestra will team up with the Marshall University Marching Thunder marching band and special guests for a Battle of the Bands Tailgate show Sept. 10.
The Huntington Symphony Orchestra offers VIP seating and group ticket prices. For more information, visit huntingtonsymphony.org.
HUNTINGTON — Downtown Huntington residents, workers and visitors will see changes to the area within the next couple of years.
The City of Huntington is planning a redesign of portions of 8th, 9th and 10th streets that would further promote the growth of the area and improve safety and infrastructure.
City officials have received feedback from downtown business and property owners and plan to get more input on the idea.
The city has secured $9.6 million in funding from the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission, which requires a 20% match from the city, or $2.5 million. The commission’s funds come from the Surface Transportation Block Grant program.
About 30 business and property owners gave feedback during a May 17 meeting. Officials said the response was overwhelmingly positive.
A conceptual plan was needed to discuss funding, but public input will still be taken during the process. Cathy Burns, the director of the Development Office, said the city plans to have more meetings with downtown stakeholders and that the City Council will have to make some decisions regarding the project.
Phoebe Patton Randolph of Edward Tucker Architects said the $12.1 million in secured funding could support phases one through four of the project. There are five phases.
The plan focuses on 8th Street from 3rd Avenue to 5th Avenue, 3rd Avenue from 8th Street to 10th Street, 10th Street from 3rd Avenue to 5th Avenue, and 9th Street from 3rd Avenue to 7th Avenue.
The redesign includes an additional 33 to 43 parking spots and aesthetic improvements such as lighting or historic metal arches.
The area has become a hub for entertainment and businesses in recent years. The 9th Street area is temporarily closed during the summer for events such as 9th Street Live. Downtown is also the site of outdoor gatherings like the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival and ChiliFest. Some restaurants also want to expand outdoor dining.
Burns said the goals include incorporating more public art downtown with already existing fixtures.
“I’m a big advocate for downtown, but … I believe that what really sets it apart from more of that suburbia development is that fact that it’s more dense development,” Burns said.
The redesign must also be durable and sustainable for the next 25 years, she added. Opportunities like this do not come often.
Underlying principles for the redesign include growth of downtown; improving safety; increasing parking; addressing infrastructure and utility needs in the area such as sidewalks; wayfinding signs and stormwater drainage; maintaining a consistent aesthetic; and using a “complete streets” approach.
City Communications Director Bryan Chambers said Mayor Steve Williams wanted to underline that the city has no plans to make 9th Street pedestrian-only again, something that happened during the 1990s.
Changes to 8th Street that are being considered include removing one lane of northbound traffic and adding diagonal parking that drivers could back into, allowing for more spots on the side next to City Hall, said James Yost of GAI Consultants Inc. Backing into a parking spot also puts the trunk of a car near the entrance of a shop and allows passengers to exit a vehicle close to the sidewalk. However, a traffic study must be done to move forward with this change. On the part of 8th Street near The Market, the sidewalk could be reduced to add more parking and bike lanes.
The 3rd Avenue plan includes reducing the sidewalk to add more parking, but input from businesses in the area would be needed. A re-striping plan with back-in parking is being considered for 10th Street.
The plan for 9th Street includes what would be the first shared street concept in West Virginia, which means that no curb would be on the street, but barriers like trees and different pavements would mark the road from the sidewalk. In the plaza area where 9th Street Live is held, the plan calls for hydraulic bollards to close the street to traffic temporarily and a permanent stage area. This portion of the street would also include lighting and an arch that goes over the plaza, similar to historical metal arches that Huntington used to have.
On the portion of 9th Street that features the Cabell County Public Library design, the street would feature a curbside and mimic design elements from the 3rd and 4th avenues portion. Farther up the street, parking for the federal building would be maintained and parking near the Prichard Building, which is being redeveloped, would have spaces added.
The project will likely begin the bid process next year, with construction beginning in either the summer or fall of 2023. Input from other agencies, such as the West Virginia Division of Highways, the Huntington Municipal Parking Board and the Huntington Stormwater Utility will also be needed.
McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering local government in Huntington and Cabell County. Follow her on Twitter @Mckennahorsley.
HUNTINGTON — In 2017, fentanyl rose as the newest layer of the opioid epidemic. The COVID-19 pandemic only added to the problem.
Today, fentanyl is often found in combination with other opioids and prescription medicines and accounts for the majority of overdose deaths in West Virginia. State leaders in drug control are still finding ways to combat the overdose hike since its peak in 2020.
In 2019, there were over 500 fatal overdoses involving fentanyl statewide, according to the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy. By the end of 2020, overdoses had nearly doubled.
In general, overdoses from opioids jumped from 675 to 1,136 from 2019 to the end of 2020. Dr. Matthew Christiansen, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said that although fatality data is incomplete for 2021 and 2022, he expects similar numbers.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more people that are addicted. It just means that the drug supply for the people that are already addicted is more deadly,” he said.
Christiansen explained that the pandemic had a lot to do with the increase in deaths from opioids, as the supply shifted further from heroin to fentanyl. He said this is partially because shutdowns forced cartels to find easier ways to smuggle across the border.
Fentanyl can be smuggled in small packages with several doses per package due to its potency. It is also synthetic, meaning it does not require growing poppies like heroin and can be made purely in a lab.
“There really is no limitation on the amount of fentanyl that these cartels and criminals are producing,” he said. “They can really just ramp up production relatively quickly in a warehouse as opposed to having to grow fields of plants and poppies out in the Middle East or Asia and then purify it and ship it to the United States. It’s a much more direct threat.”
Overdoses in poly-substances involving fentanyl and other opioids also saw an increase in 2020. Christiansen said drugs are becoming deadlier because the more borders the drug crosses, the more the supply is cut with other substances and becomes unpredictable.
“People that have been dependent on opioids, illicit opioids for a long time, have an understanding as to how much that they can use, are being caught off guard and they are dying from this really potent poison that’s being spread around on the streets,” he said.
Fentanyl, in particular, is being mixed with other opioids and has even been found in marijuana and fake prescription pills, without users realizing it. Now, Christiansen said, fentanyl is responsible for more than 75% of all overdose deaths in West Virginia.
Users who are unaware that fentanyl is in their supply are taking the same amount of this drug as any other opioid, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
An analysis from last year by the Drug Enforcement Administration found that drug trafficking organizations will typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram when possible.
That one kilogram has the potential to kill half a million people.
“Probably the majority of the overdoses that we see in this area are poly-substances,” said Jan Rader, director of the Mayor’s Council on Public Health and Drug Control Policy in Huntington.
“Somebody is suffering from substance use disorder — regardless of what their drug, the drug they’re looking for, they take what’s available on the street, and a lot of times it’s a mixture.”
Not only are users more likely to overdose due to the increased potency of fentanyl in their mix, but overdosing from a poly-substance may require more effort for them to recover.
“It seems like the majority of overdoses that I have witnessed here lately, it seems like it’s taking more naloxone to work,” Rader said.
The CDC reported that more than one dose of naloxone may be required in overdoses involving stronger opioids like fentanyl. In a poly-substance, where opioids are mixed with other drugs, like benzodiazepines, naloxone will only work in recovering the user from an opioid overdose, but expert medical attention will still be necessary to recover a user from other drugs.
In 2020, the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy recorded 244 deaths caused by overdoses from benzodiazepines combined with any opioid in the state. Benzodiazepine-related poly-substance overdose deaths accounted for 16% of overdose deaths nationwide that year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Both types of drugs work to sedate the user and suppress breathing, which could cause death in overdose cases. The CDC recommends that clinicians avoid co-prescribing these drugs, but the mixture, “benzo dope,” was discovered last year on streets in Canada, according to experts in British Columbia.
“I have not heard of widespread distribution of benzo dope in West Virginia yet; however, that’s something that we definitely have on the radar and something that we need to be prepared for,” Christiansen said.
Morgan Switzer, deputy general counsel of the state Department of Homeland Security, said the state saw a spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths from 2017 to 2020. She said the West Virginia Fusion Center found a connection between this spike and a 550% increase in fentanyl seized at the Mexican border that was intended for transport to West Virginia.
Switzer said fentanyl is not manufactured in West Virginia or the United States, meaning it has to come from across the border or overseas. She said fentanyl distribution is not specific to West Virginia, but the accessibility of interstates makes it easier to travel through the state’s panhandles.
In response to this, Gov. Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 536 into law, also known as the “Fentanyl Bill,” in April this year. This increases penalties for distributors of fentanyl in West Virginia and those caught transporting fentanyl into the state.
It also made it a crime to involve any person under 18 in distributing any controlled substance.
“We all worked really hard to make sure that people that are bringing this type of drug in and selling it here are punished,” Switzer said. “We’ve made it a priority to try to keep West Virginia as safe as we can by increasing the penalties and bonds, and we’re looking forward to seeing the results of this new legislation.”
Christiansen said the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy is trying to make sure that they are not only addressing opiate use disorder, but also all addictions. He said they have deployed addiction interventions and expanded medication-assisted treatment programs and certified recovery beds to address all addiction holistically.
“We look at this as a holistic effort across the state to make sure that we’re not just specifying it to one drug, because we know that oftentimes people will migrate from one drug to another,” Christiansen said.
“We have to be very nimble and think on our feet and make sure that we are addressing the root cause of the addiction, which is oftentimes unaddressed trauma, unaddressed mental health issues, and that we’re not just targeting the substance, because that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”
He said he has seen the Office of Drug Control Policy’s efforts pay off since April 2021. He said numbers are still high, but there has been a decrease in overdose deaths since the height of the pandemic when compared to other states, who have only plateaued at some of their pandemic peaks.
“Throughout the state of West Virginia, we’ve dramatically increased access to services and have really been able to allow more people and facilitate more people into long-term recovery than ever before,” he said. “There are more people living today in recovery, long-term recovery, from addiction than we’ve ever seen.
“There is always hope.”
For 24/7 access to recovery support specialists, treatment referrals and other addiction recovery resources, call or text 844-HELP4WV.