Dixieland Comes to High Street in Morgantown

High Street Jazz Band from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

The High Street Jazz Band, is an eclectic crew of musicians playing Dixieland style jazz on the main street of Morgantown, West Virginia.  Dixieland, which originated in New Orleans, is known for its brassy tunes and improvisation. It features trumpets and trombones, which carry the melody, held together by the rhythm section, which may consist of tubas, drums, and banjos.

The High Street group formed in 2010 when some musicians from West Virginia University’s marching band started killing time with jazz tunes. The result was infectious, and they decided to bring the ostentatious sound to High Street, the center of Morgantown’s nightlife. Today, the University’s marching band continues to be a source of musicians for the Dixieland group.
All told, the band has about 12-15 regular members, but they show up to performances as their schedules allow. The group is open to any musician in the Morgantown area willing to attend the weekly rehearsals.
By Ella Jennings and Lauren Caccamo

People Without People on Instagram 2017

An introductory photojournalism class at the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University was asked to explore the idea of spaces defined by the way people use them.  Students made Instagram pictures of places in Morgantown, where they could see the presence of people even without people in the picture frame. See their submissions below.

A Silent Crime: Domestic Violence in West Virginia

Domestic violence is one of the most common of violent crimes, it is also, arguably, among the more sinister given its nature. Imagine a person approaching you and demanding you come with them, they want your money, or worse. Then imagine that person assaults you regardless of how you respond and there is no one to call for help.

Would you feel weak? shaken? intimidated? Now imagine this person lives with you. Not only do you share space with them, but they are someone you care about, someone you sleep next to every night.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some level of violence from a domestic partner at some point in their lives. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the demographic at the highest risk nationally, however data shows ages 25 to 59 are the most frequent cases locally.

In West Virginia 1 in 3 homicides is directly tied to domestic battery and 2 of every 3 female murder victims were related to the perpetrator.

One of the inherent problems with domestic violence is victims’ emotional ties to their attackers, which often result in indecision and a delayed response. Even when a victim is willing to find support or report attacks, the response can take months, even years, and the failure to act quickly can have tragic consequences.

Because the victims are intimately familiar with their attackers and reluctant to report the crimes the damage inflicted can occur perpetually and typically escalates over time.

Dr. Walter Dekeseredy, the director of the Research Center on Violence at West Virginia University,  said in the majority of cases, aggressors are male and victims are females. However, it is important to avoid broad over-simplifications. Even the very definition of what makes a person a victim relies on subjective and personal standards. Perpetrators, however, often share traits.

“Thirty years of research – two factors stand out in abusive men: Abusive men are more likely to have friends that are abusive, and they have patriarchal attitudes,” Dekeseredy said. “So these guys are not loners, they are embedded in a particular network.”

Dekeseredy added that domestic violence is symptomatic of a male-oriented society that has served as the norm of western culture for hundreds of years, and it helps explain why domestic violence has only recently started to gain attention from a much larger audience.

“It’s the greatest risk to women’s health and well-being around the world. And the odd thing is women are so worried about walking alone outside. That’s not the greatest risk to them, the greatest risk to them is the person they know,” Dekeseredy said.



Kathryn Burnham, a graduate assistant with the sociology program at WVU,  was a victim of domestic violence. Her experiences and the atmosphere of violence, along with the fear and anger it fostered, made her think about the way victims respond to those situations.

Domestic Violence from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

Kathryn Burnham shares her personal account of domestic violence and how it has shaped her future.

Burnham emphasized that victims who take action may eventually, and often, find resolve and even power from their experiences, this process can start by simply talking to someone.

She added for those who encounter a victim, empathy is crucial. A listener should never attempt to qualify what is or is not domestic violence for fear of discouraging the victim from seeking help. Because perpetrators of domestic violence typically escalate stages of abuse, from psychological to physical, victims should be encouraged to seek help as soon as possible.


The following report from the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center (RDVIC) are actual numbers from Monongalia, Preston and Taylor Counties.

According to the NCADV Only 25 percent  of all physical assaults, 20 percent of rapes, and 50 percent of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to law enforcement.

Domestic violence may not be easily identifiable to those who haven’t experienced it. Both victims and perpetrators have shown tendencies to hide or ignore their situation. However, the first acknowledgement of it, be it the victim’s word or a friend who shows concern, can be the first step to fixing the problem.

Story, video and graphics by Isaac Zivkovic

5 reasons treating opioid addiction in West Virginia is harder than you think

The United States is flush with opioids, a type of powerful painkiller that doctors prescribe to help patients deal with chronic and acute pain.

Prescriptions for opioids have been skyrocketing since the early 1990s, when changes in prescribing practices and the introduction of new powerful painkillers changed the market. In 1991, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that doctors wrote 76 million prescriptions. By 2011, that number had risen to 219 million. West Virginia has one of the highest prescription rates of opioids in the United States and it ranks in the top 10 for the highest rate of prescriptions given out for high-dose opioids and extended-release opioids — both of which are targets for abusers.

The explosion in prescriptions has subsequently led to an explosion in overdoses and abuse, leading the federal government to dub opioid abuse an epidemic . A U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in January revealed that drug-overdose deaths  reached a new high in 2014 , totaling 47,055 people with West Virginia taking the lead. The State had the highest drug-overdose death rate in the United States, where overdose deaths per 100,000 people was: 35.5.

Opioid treatment has long generated controversy. Opioid maintenance therapy, or using a legal opiate, like Suboxone, to reduce a person’s urge has been supported by many who regard it as a practical, cost-effective strategy that prevents death and illness generated by street drug use and allows people, who suffer from addiction to resume “mainstream” lives. But opponents argue that it simply replaces one addiction for another.

A fragmented treatment system, a widespread bias against addiction medications and a shortage of trained workers often thwart those seeking help. Instead, they show up in emergency rooms, or reach out to local doctors, nurses and clergy.

So why is it so complicated? Why IS getting opioid maintenance therapy in West Virginia harder than you think?


Before exploring the different aspects of opioid addiction treatment, let’s shed some light on how opioids work in the brain:

Opioids are attached to receptors in the brain. Normally these opioids are the endogenous variety that are created naturally in the body. Once attached, they send signals to the brain of the “opioid effect,” which blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect. The body cannot produce enough natural opioids to stop severe or chronic pain nor can it produce enough to cause an overdose.

Opioids target the brain’s reward system.  The overstimulation of this system, which rewards our natural behaviors, produces the euphoric effects sought by people who misuse drugs and teaches them to repeat the behavior.

In 2002, there was an abundance of optimism surrounding Suboxone when it was approved for treatment of heroin and prescription opioids. Suboxone is an opioid itself, but with a twist. This medication can allow one to regain a normal state of mind – free of withdrawal, cravings and the drug-induced highs and lows of addiction.

What Is Suboxone and How Does it Work?

There are two medications combined in each dose of Suboxone. The most important ingredient is Buprenorphine, which is classified as a ‘partial opioid agonist,’ and the second is Naloxone which is an ‘opioid antagonist’ or an opioid blocker.

A ‘partial opioid agonist’ such as Buprenorphine is an opioid that produces less of an effect than a full opioid when it attaches to an opioid receptor in the brain. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, heroin and methadone are examples of “full opioid agonists.” An opioid antagonist like Naloxone is a medication-assisted treatment option that also fits perfectly into opioid receptors in the brain.

When Suboxone is taken correctly, the Naloxone is not absorbed into the bloodstream to any significant degree.

What’s So Good about Suboxone?

Buprenorphine tricks the brain into thinking that a full opioid like oxycodone or heroin is in the lock, and this suppresses the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with that problem opioid. Buprenorphine is a long-acting form of medicated-assisted treatment, meaning that it gets stuck in the brain’s opiate receptors for about 24 hours. This gives the person with opioid addiction a 24-hour reprieve each time a dose of Suboxone is taken.

If a full opioid is taken within 24 hours of Suboxone, the patient will quickly discover that the full opioid is not working – they will not get high and will not get pain relief. This 24-hour reprieve gives the patient time to reconsider the wisdom of relapsing with a problem opioid while undergoing medication-assisted treatment.

Another benefit of Buprenorphine in treating opioid addiction is something called the “ceiling effect.” This means that taking more Suboxone than prescribed does not result in a full opioid effect. Taking extra Suboxone will not get the patient high. This is a distinct advantage over methadone, another medication-assisted therapy drug. Patients can get high on methadone because it is a full opioid. The ceiling effect also helps if Buprenorphine is taken in an overdose – there is less suppression of breathing than would result from a full opioid.

Additionally, success rates, as measured by retention in treatment and one-year sobriety, have been reported as high as 40 to 60 percent in some studies. (According to NIH, there has been little data on treatment for patients addicted to prescription painkillers, especially in the offices of primary care doctors).

How Is Suboxone Taken As a Form of Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Because it is long-acting, (24 hours or more) Suboxone only needs to be taken one time per day. It should be allowed to completely dissolve under the tongue. It comes in both a 2 mg and 8 mg tablet, and a 2 mg or 8 mg strip.

However, if a Suboxone tablet is crushed and then snorted or injected the Naloxone component will travel rapidly to the brain and knock opioids already sitting there out of their receptors. This can trigger a rapid and quite severe withdrawal syndrome.

The strips are now the preferred delivery because they have less potential for abuse by people with opioid addiction (they cannot be crushed), serial numbers on the strip packs help prevent trafficking, and the strips dissolve more rapidly than the tablets.

Suboxone can be prescribed by doctors in an office setting. West Virginia has around 221 to 235 physicians with a license to prescribe Suboxone.

Dr. Carl R. Sullivan, director of addiction programs at WVU Medicine, believes that Suboxone is the best thing that has happened for opioid addicts.

But it must be used with a medication-assisted treatment program. A lot of people get better,” Sullivan said. “It is the standard of care, and it offers hope where there is no hope.

Sullivan challenges the perception that opioid maintenance therapy is trading one addictive drug for another.

“People don’t argue when medication is prescribed to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes yet condemn it with opioid addiction treatment,” Sullivan said. “Both are diseases that might require taking treatment for life.”

What’s So Bad about Suboxone Anyway?

There are two accepted uses for Suboxone as a means to help someone recovering from opiate addiction. First, Suboxone can be used during detox to help ease the worst symptoms of withdrawal. This ensures that the recovering addict is free of the strongest physical compulsions to use.

Secondly, many physicians, dealing with addicts possessing a long personal history of chronic opioid abuse, will prescribe a Suboxone maintenance plan.

This is when the patient – typically, a long-term heavy opioid abuser – will be kept on Suboxone for a considerable length of time – months, or even years. The goal of the maintenance plan is to keep cravings manageable until such time as the addict’s brain slowly returns to normal.

This is not a perfect solution, and critics of long-term Suboxone maintenance decry the practice as simply swapping one opiate for another.

Federal law limits individual physicians to no more than 100 Suboxone maintenance clients at a time.

According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there is a misuse potential associated with Buprenorphine/Suboxone.

Because of Buprenorphine’s opioid effects, it can be misused, particularly by people who do not have an opioid dependency.


While methadone can cost $3,000 to $3,500 per patient per year, generic Suboxone costs two to three times as much, according to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

Some insurance companies strictly limit the drug. Medicaid isn’t ideal for providers either. It covers the drug but pays only a tiny fraction of the office visit, making it far easier for the well-insured to obtain than the poor.

Many doctors who dispense the drug take cash only. VICE notes treatment with Suboxone at some facilities can cost as much as $8,000 per month. Depending on the health insurance company, some portion of that cost is covered and the rest of the cost is the patient’s responsibility.

Addicts going outside Medicaid face potentially prohibitive costs that they can’t bear. Prices will vary depending on the dosage and on the quantity that a doctor has prescribed. At CVS Pharmacy, 8mg/2mg of Buprenorphine/Naloxone (60 sublinguals) cost $220.09, while at Walgreens it is 236.41 and in Rite-Aid $315.64.

In addition, as of 2013, Medicaid in 48 states required a prior authorization for Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone. West Virginia’s Medicaid program, like those of many other states, requires that as well.

Moreover, many doctors are already at the 100-patient limit and just can’t take any more patients.


When addicts decide to get treatment for addiction, it is a huge step, and generally comes from a moment or period of mental clarity. The longer they take to get started, the more they are at risk to give in to their addiction.

In the Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment (COAT) clinic run by Sullivan in Morgantown, the waiting time to be admitted for treatment has reached one year. According to Sullivan, the waiting lists in clinics represent a huge setback in the system.

When someone who is in the grip of these drugs reaches out for help, AND then encounters these waiting lists, that moment of clarity can be fleeting. The system as it exists now isn’t always there with a warm embrace.



The nation’s doctors appear to be inadequately prepared to help with the opioid epidemic and the problem begins in medical school. A report in 2012 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse revealed that medical schools devoted little time to teaching addiction medicine — only a few hours over the course of four years.

Medical faculties have traditionally eschewed teaching the subject, in part because many physicians viewed addiction as a personal vice rather than a disease. And, even now, some doctors who specialize in addiction treatment are skeptical that the best care for the problem comes out of a medical model.

In a March report, the California Health Care Foundation cited inadequate medical school training as one of the challenges in treating patients addicted to opioids.

“Most physicians just don’t know anything about addiction,” Sullivan said.  “They want to specialize in surgery or pediatrics, not deal with addicts.”

Ty Reidenbaugh is a resident physician at WVU Hospitals. He is getting ready to start his addiction psychiatry fellowship next summer. He talks below about his approach to treatment.

Ty Reidenbugh, prospective addiction psychiatry fellow from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

The White House has also been pressuring medical schools to improve instruction on opioid addiction, issuing pledges for schools to sign, promising to change their curricula.

In a University of Washington study, based on 2012 data, researchers found that 30 million Americans lived in counties without a single doctor certified to prescribe Suboxone.

As of mid-January, in hard-hit West Virginia, there are just 235 doctors who are certified to dispense Buprenorphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.  TheMental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) puts the number at 221.

The map below locates doctors around Morgantown, who are licensed to dispense Suboxone.


Many U.S. states remain loyal to abstinence-only treatment. Rural communities, particularly, many of which exist in West Virginia, tend to stigmatize medication-assisted therapy. Many people believe that substance abuse is a weakness of personality and that a person needs to get a handle on their disease. In that sense, they think that relying on a drug that replaces the drug of abuse is somehow a weakness.

For some of those opposed to drug maintenance therapy the reasons are straightforward. The goal of a healthy recovery from drug addiction is just– recovery. The very word implies that life will get better as the person returns to a life free of active addiction. Recovery does not mean “simply not getting any worse.”

Opponents believe addicts in successful recovery know they have to make changes in their behaviors and actions to stay clean and sober. They understand that they have to avoid the people, places, and things that are conducive to the destructive life of an addict.

Critics of Suboxone maintenance also flatly state that the practice is contrary to the idea of an addict living a completely drug-free life. Long-term Suboxone patients never get to the root of their addiction problem. And, because the psychological aspects of addiction are never addressed, quality of life for the not-really-recovering addict never improves. In many cases, other substances are taken to replace the missing effects of the heroin/opiate – Xanax, cocaine, and especially, alcohol.

In other words, the person is still an active addict – they’re just not taking opiates.

Alternatives to drug-based therapy

Generally, there has been little data on anti-drug treatment for patients addicted to prescription painkillers. To help address this issue, one of the non-profit organizations that provides long-term residential addiction treatment centered on the Therapeutic Community model  “MAAR”, conducted research  over a period of eight years and reported the following findings:

Of Opioid-dependent clients, who completed ERR (Extended Recovery Residence), 56 percent reported abstinence at the two year contact point.

Some anti-drug treatment programs add the component of faith to the mix. While each facility is structured slightly differently, most religious recovery facilities combine the teachings of their faith with traditional non-spiritual recovery methods. Most faith-based rehab programs are designed for people who already practice a certain faith.

Some programs are less forceful with the inclusion of the religious component. They provide secular-based treatment as well as the option to pursue spiritual support. Those struggling with addiction, WHO feel a spiritual void but are not certain what they specifically believe, may find this type of program to be a better fit.

Story, video and graphics by Dalia Elsaid

Ins and Outs of West Virginia’s New Constitutional Carry Law

Gun owners in West Virginia talk about the pros and cons of Constitutional Carry, which, among other things, allows individuals over 21 in the state to carry a firearm, open or concealed, without formal training.

Open Carry West Virginia from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

On May 26, 2016, West Virginia became one of the 11 states officially allowing residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit after the state House and Senate chambers voted to override the governor’s veto. House Bill 4145, as it was formally known, faced much scrutiny from gun-control advocates and West Virginia’s Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

The passing of the concealed carry bill in West Virginia comes at a time when gun rights have become increasingly lax across the nation. While gun rights activists at the state and national level support the bill, the Governor’s veto was out of concern for the protection of law enforcement and civilians. Concealed carry, which allows an individual to carry a firearm concealed on their person, has been regarded as a way to minimize crime because residents in an concealed carry state are readily equipped. However, now anyone over the age of 21 can carry a firearm openly or concealed in West Virginia, if they pass a background check.

The Constitution states Americans have a right to bear arms. According to research done by professors at Columbia University and Boston University, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for gun ownership,  with 54 percent of West Virginians owning a gun as of June 2015.  Before the new legislation, a firearm safety course was required in order to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon in West Virginia. The safety course is no longer required.

A 2013 study from the Center for American Progress found a correlation between state gun ownership and gun violence within the state. In 2015, an ecologic study found the opposite.

Constitutional Carry Is the Least Restrictive Expression of the Second Amendment

While the second amendment has been surrounded by much controversy in recent years, law-abiding American citizens still possess the right to carry a weapon. How they carry the weapon on their person, whether exposed or concealed, depends on what state they reside in. There are three types of gun carry laws across states.

  1. “May-issue”: the most restrictive structure, which can deny applicants a permit even if they meet all of the state’s eligibility requirements. Only eight U.S. states utilize this policy.
  2. “Shall-issue”: the middle-ground, and most popular structure, which grants an applicant a permit to carry a firearm concealed, if they pass a background check, training, or any other provisional requirement by the state. Currently, 34 states adhere to the “shall-issue” gun law.
  3. “Constitutional Carry”: the least restrictive structure as it allows permitless carry within the state. West Virginia became the eighth state to approve constitutional carry, and 11 states in the country had adopted the policy by the end of 2016.

West Virginia previously had a “shall-issue” policy in place, which required residents to undergo background checks, in addition to training and obtaining a permit before being allowed to carry a concealed weapon. Now, with constitutional carry in place, residents of the mountain state can legally carry a firearm on their person, or in close proximity without a permit or formal training. However, the law does require a provisional permitting process for individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 seeking to carry a concealed firearm. Before, no one under the age of 21 was allowed to carry a concealed weapon.

West Virginia Higher Education Institutions Not in Favor of Guns on Campus

A mere eight states allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Currently, firearms are not permitted on any college campus in West Virginia. The most notable stand against the legislature’s bill was at West Liberty University. The Board of Governors at West Liberty unanimously voted in favor of a 30-day comment period on the issue in August, and implemented a new policy on October 4. West Liberty’s policy prohibits individuals from carrying a concealed handgun, or for any weapon to be present on campus.

Similar gun restrictions exist at institutions like West Virginia University, Marshall University, and Fairmont State University. WVU adopted its policy in 1998, which prohibits “possession or storage of a deadly weapon destructive device, or fireworks in any form” on campus, or in University vehicles. West Virginia Higher Education Commission Chancellor Paul Hill confirmed the universities could still prohibit firearms and other deadly weapons on their campuses after the House bill was passed.

West Virginia part of growing Constitutional Carry trend.

When the West Virginia legislature passed House Bill 4145, West Virginia became the eighth state to adopt the law. Since March, Idaho, Mississippi, and Missouri have also permitted constitutional carry.

However, the states that allow constitutional carry appear to be setting a progressive trend that could eventually result in more states adopting a bill. New Hampshire and Utah had bills vetoed by the states’ governors; the same challenge West Virginia faced. Other states like Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oklahoma have a limited form of permitless carry, which extends to limited areas and does not allow individuals to carry a weapon in a restaurant, or public place like one can in West Virginia.

Fear of an Increased Crime Rate in the State

West Virginia has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the country. In 2010, the state’s death rate from gun violence was at 1.5 percent, which means deaths by firearm actually represented only a small percentage of the state’s overall death rate. There were less than 300 deaths reported in West Virginia that year, but law enforcement is concerned the crime rate will rise with House Bill 4145 enacted.  Patrick Morissey, the state’s attorney general disagrees.

“As the chief legal officer of the state and the person in charge of criminal matters for the state at the WV Supreme Court and in federal courts, I know that this legislation will not impact public safety,” Morrissey said following Governor Tomblin’s initial veto. “The bill not only expands our freedom, but we will keep our citizens protected.”

Story, video and graphics by Roger Turner

Easy ways to live more sustainably

College students at West Virginia University were asked what they knew about recycling in their area in the video above.

Consumers make various decisions throughout each day, which affect their carbon footprint. These decisions can be as simple as driving to work or buying a t-shirt, and while the consequences seem virtually invisible to the consumer, they can be detrimental to the environment.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 committed the U.S. to sustainability, declaring it a national policy “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” However, despite billions of dollars spent on recycling competitions, symposiums, awareness campaigns and new sorting technologies, U.S. recycling levels have not improved in 20 years, according to recycleacrossamerica.org.

While the EPA has passed strict guidelines for companies and promotes sustainability efforts, consumers can make personal efforts to become sustainable in their daily lives. Here are four easy ways to become more sustainable in everyday life:

  1. Use less plastic – Plastic does not decompose when it’s dumped in landfills. Billions of pounds of it can be found swirling in the ocean, making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. Choose a reusable water bottle instead of bottled water; you will save money and resources.
  2. Eat less meat – Meat production is responsible for massive amounts of water use, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and habitat destruction. Eating locally sourced fruits and vegetables also lowers the amount of fossil fuel used to transport food over long distances.
  3. Recycle – The United States currently recycles less than 22 percent of its discarded materials. For convenience, many municipalities have embraced new sorting methods that allow all recyclables to be placed in the same bin. To recycle at home, do some research to find out what is collected in your area and when recycling is picked up in your neighborhood, or find a drop off site.
  4. Drive less – This might sound inconvenient, or even impossible, but by combining errands or finding shorter routes, consumers can cut down on driving and be more efficient. Also, don’t waste your time warming up your car in the winter, it’s counterproductive. Modern cars don’t have carbureted engines, which do need time to warmup. Now, the practice strips away oils from your engine and wastes gas.


Sources: biologicaldiversity.org, recycleacrossamerica.org, epa.gov
Story, video and graphics by Jennifer Gardner












Angela’s Story: No degree of separation from addiction

Angela Camilletti was many things. She was daughter, a sister, a friend, a college student, a dancer, the life of the party, and a heroin addict, who died at the age of 23 in 2009.

To many, she might be one more in a country where drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury deaths, ahead of car accidents and guns. In West Virginia, which leads the nation in overdose deaths, Angela was one of 479, who died in the same year. In 2014, that number had grown to 627.

In the middle of a nationwide drug epidemic, addiction is no longer something from which people can emotionally separate themselves and their loved ones. It is taking people in everyone’s families and communities.

In the video below, Angela’s parents, Sandy and David, give a glimpse into their experience with Angela while she was in the depths of her addiction.

This is an introduction to a larger project to start a conversation about addiction and how it is plaguing our society.

VIMEO from eyesonWV on Vimeo.


By Lena Camilletti

Preventative health care key to avoiding poverty for the elderly in WV


West Virginia’s seniors face many financial burdens, particularly with healthcare, after retirement.

West Virginia has a relatively large senior population with 297,404 people aged 65 and over according to the 2010 U.S. Census. World Atlas reported in 2016 that West Virginia had the third highest population of people over the age of 65 in the U.S., after Florida and Maine.

Obviously, senior citizens make up a significant portion of the state, therefore, their financial issues are the state’s burden as well. The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy (WVCBP) and the West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living (WVPEL) joined forces to study the extent of seniors’ economic situation for this reason.

In July 2012,the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy and the West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living published “The State of Older Adults in West Virginia,” shedding light on the costs seniors face and how they pay these costs. Here are some of the statistics from the publication:

  • Meeting the basic costs of housing, food, transportation, health care, and personal needs in West Virginia requires an annual income between $16,716 and $33,252. These numbers have since been updated by the Economic Security Database to between $17,712 and $36,132. This is assuming the senior is in good health.
  • 90.2 percent of seniors receive some income from Social Security.
  • 40 percent of seniors receive some income from assets, such as interest-generating accounts, dividends from stocks, mutual funds, rent and royalties
  • Almost 33 percent of seniors receive some retirement income from pensions, IRAs, Keoghs, 401(k) accounts and other retirement accounts
  • 11 percent of seniors in West Virginia continued to work or sought employment after the age of 65 and received earnings from work
  • Some seniors also receive income from veterans benefits and survivor benefits

Despite these sources of income, there is still a number of seniors aged 65 and older in West Virginia under the poverty threshold, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On average in the state of West Virginia, 10.5 percent of adults aged 65 and older live below the poverty line and 40.7 percent of adults aged 65 and older are live slightly above poverty, but with an income still considered dangerously low. A major expense seniors face, which contributes to their overall cost of living, is healthcare. Healthcare costs West Virginia’s seniors approximately $4,000 to $6,000 a year depending on their health status, according to the Elder Economic Security Standard Index for West Virginia.

Medicare helps seniors with healthcare costs, but Medicare does not cover everything. Medicare, according to medicare.gov, is “the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).”

Luanna Lee is a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) counselor at Senior Monongalians in Morgantown, W. Va. and she helps seniors enroll in Medicare for prescription drug coverage. “Sometimes they want to find plans that are free or don’t have premiums, but those don’t exist,” said Lee.

Seniors who take expensive medications are at risk of experiencing gap coverage, according to Lee.

Lee said that Medicare will spend up to $3,700 on a senior’s prescriptions and then, after that amount has been spent, the cost of the prescriptions becomes the senior’s responsibility.

This situation is referred to as gap coverage, or “the donut hole.” There are plans in place to prevent gap coverage, like Extra Help and Medicare savings programs, but there are still people who fall into the donut hole.

Lee has one client in particular who is in this category. The client is $60 over the cut off for Extra Help and Medicare savings programs, but her insulin is still very expensive and hard for her to afford.

“The pharmacists would split her insulin pens so she wouldn’t have to buy all five at once,” said Lee. “She tells me I have to decide whether I want to buy my insulin or whether I want to have food.”

The State of Older Adults in West Virginia” advocates 10 recommendations for improving the economic security for West Virginia’s senior citizens, so fewer people are faced with decisions like Lee’s client. The promotion of “health prevention, good nutrition and care coordination for older adults to support overall healthy aging and economic security” is one of the suggestions.

The study also reported that a senior in fair or poor health has an average out-of-pocket health cost of $527 a month, which is nearly $200 more than a senior in excellent or very good health. A senior in excellent or very good health has an average out-of-pocket health cost of $332 a month.

A healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition and physical activity, can help to prevent many of the chronic diseases and health problems West Virginia’s seniors suffer from during their lives.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ (WVDHHR) 2013 West Virginia Vital Statistics study listed cancer, diseases of the heart, chronic lower respiratory disease and diabetes as the top four leading causes of death in peoples ages 65 to 74. Most of these are potentially preventable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in September 2013 at least 200,000 of the annual deaths caused by heart disease and stroke are preventable. Ways to prevent heart disease and stroke include not smoking, leading a physically active lifestyle and ingesting a low-sodium diet.

Women’s Health cited chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as the most deadly of all chronic lower respiratory diseases and the leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Chronic lower respiratory disease was a leading cause of death in West Virginia in 2013 for people ages 45 and over, and the CDC reported in 2015 between 23.7 percent to 27.4 percent of adults in the state smoke, which is above the national average.

The State of Obesity reported in 2015 that 14.5 percent of adults in West Virginia have diabetes. The state has the second highest ranking of adults with diabetes in the nation, after Mississippi. Nationally, the majority of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, which is exacerbated by being overweight or inactive.

Hospital bills and therapies are big costs for people on a fixed income, but people who take care of themselves throughout their lives and after retirement via physical activity and good nutrition can potentially avoid extraneous healthcare costs caused by these diseases that are prevalent in West Virginia.

In the video below, senior citizens talk about the concerns of health care and aging.

Elderly Healthcare in West Virginia from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

Story, video and quiz by Katherine Hensley

Declining Severance Tax One Reason WV Economy in Trouble

Welch, WV

Welch, W. Va., was an important community in a county booming with nearly 100,000 people in the 1950s. The decline of the coal industry in southern West Virginia is a large part of why the population has decreased to just 19,835 in 2010. David Mark/pixabay.com – Licensed under Creative Commons.


In July 2016, The Mountain State Business Index reported that West Virginia is likely coming out of the recession it’s been suffering in recent years, though the future still looks bumpy.

The state’s revenue is down, and according to State Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss, if the state legislature fails to impose any new tax increases or budget cuts, the state’s deficit in 2018 could exceed $400 million.

Monthly revenue reports, courtesy of the West Virginia State Budget Office, show where the state earned revenue in the fiscal year 2015-16. By comparison, the report detailing revenue estimates for the 2016-17 year shows that the state is projected to lose about 2.8 percent in revenue. Part of the drop comes from the loss of $147 million from severance taxes between the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

The chart below shows the changes in severance tax revenue as well as West Virginia coal production between fiscal years 2006 and 2016 (*note that statistics for coal production for 2016 are not yet available).

Severance tax info from the West Virginia State Budget Office. Coal production statistics from the United States Energy Information Administration.

The severance tax is a tax levied on companies and other organizations that extract natural resources from a state (i.e. timber, coal, and natural gas).

What is causing this decline? A study from Case Western Reserve University, in The Electricity Journal, noted the demand for coal has decreased recently, due partially to the increased demand for natural gas. A report published by the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) reveals coal production in the state peaked around 1997, remained a bit unstable until 2008, and since then has been on a steady decline. The same report details that not only is natural gas outcompeting coal, but other states like Wyoming have become strong competition, and according to BBER Director John Deskins, West Virginia coal (notably that found in the southern part of the state) has become more costly to extract.

That can partially explain why the amount collected in severances is down, but shouldn’t the increase in revenue from natural gas extraction reduce the impact of the decline? Not necessarily. Deskins says the natural gas industry in West Virginia boomed for a short period before falling, the result of a high supply and demand with a lack of infrastructure to deliver it. Production, he says, has flattened out in the last 18 months due in part to these things, causing “a glut of natural gas.”

“We just don’t have the infrastructure in place to get the natural gas to where it needs to be geographically… (and) in terms of industry,” Deskins said.

A factor in the gas industry, he says, is that the process is capital intensive, meaning that there are low numbers of jobs relative to the amount of product produced. He describes how economics trends are not necessarily smooth, as can be seen in the gas industry in West Virginia. Keeping jobs here, he adds, would be possible if we invested in downstream activity in the production cycle.

Story, video and graphics by Aaron New

Taking out the trash in West Virginia: Keeping it Legal and Green

Illegal dump site in Morgantown, West Virginia. Photo by Shannon Stanley

The State of West Virginia has over 15,000 illegal dump sites and  spends more than $1 million every year to remove litter from state highways. According to the EPA, nationwide the cost of clean up is $115 million, but those are all dry ground sites.  Perhaps tougher to clean up, are sites where people dump their trash into streams and rivers. The New River Gorge is one state water site that is combating hundreds of illegal dumps and roadside trash sites that create both aesthetic and health and safety problems.

In 2009, The Monongalia County Litter Control collected close to 10,000 pounds of trash from illegal dumping sites. Couches, chairs, mattresses, box springs, commodes and televisions were cleaned up from the site. (GreenEcoServices)

What Is Illegal Dumping? In West Virginia illegal dumping is defined as:

  • Dumping waste on public or private property that is not licensed or permitted to receive waste
  • Dumping waste, without a license or permit, into sewers or waterways, or
  • Allowing another to dump waste on one’s land, without being licensed to receive such waste.

 Penalties for Littering and Illegal Dumping in West Virginia:
Dumping garbage illegally is a misdemeanor, and the penalty varies according to the weight and size of the garbage. Violators can be sentenced to community service or a fine or both. The fines are specified by the size and weight of the garbage. If the weight of the garbage is enough, the courts can sentence violators to jail time.

  • Charged with Misdemeanor:
    • 100 lbs  or less  – fine is between $100 and $1,000 – community service 8 – 16 hours.
    • 100 – 500 lbs  – fine is between $1,000 and $2,000 – community service 16 – 32 hours.
    • 500 lbs or more – fine $2,500 to $25,000   – confinement in jail for up to one year.
  • Restitution. Courts often require defendants to pay for any damage they caused to someone’s property by their illegal dumping.
  •  Remediation. Courts may require defendants to clean up and repair property damaged by their illegal dumping.


The Difference Between Littering and Illegal Dumping:

  • The difference is determined by type and volume of waste. Disposing of typical waste and garbage, such as empty beverage bottles is littering.
  • Dumping a large amount of waste, such as bags full of garbage or an appliance, would be illegal dumping.
  • The type of waste is also important. Disposing of a toxic chemical or hazardous item such as a car battery may count as dumping. The size of these hazardous materials may be relatively small, but since they pose an immediate threat to the environment, size is not as relevant.


Land Dump Sites In the Morgantown Area:

Illegal dump sites are often remote areas found at the most outer parts of residential areas. The sites are where people dump their garbage without paying someone else to take care of it. Cathy Kinsly talks below about the illegal dump site near her home on Mayfield Road in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Mayfield Road: An Unseen Dumping Ground from eyesonWV on Vimeo.


Reasons For Illegal Dumping:

In every city there are municipalities set up to take in the community’s garbage. Monongalia County Solid Waste Authority is responsible for retrieving and transferring waste in Morgantown.  The Solid Waste Authority is owned by Republic Services. Residents can sign up for services on Republic’s website, but they won’t receive a quota for trash pickup costs until they sign up for services. This can turn a lot of potential customers away. The price is not plainly stated. Most people don’t want to deal with the hassle of taking their trash to a dump or transfer station and companies like Republic Services don’t provide the cost up front. Some of the reasons people decide to illegally dump are listed below.

  • Lack of convenient legal alternatives and presence of convenient illegal disposal sites
  • Increasing disposal costs
  • Lack of public awareness about the issue
  • Lack of judicial understanding of environmental laws, and therefore, low fines.


Morgantown’s Trash Facility:

Trash near and around the city of Morgantown is disposed of at a transfer station. Monongalia County does not have a landfill. The transfer station is located in Morgantown Industrial Park (3788 Morgantown Industrial Park, Morgantown, WV 26501)















People can also rent a dumpster from Republic Services to help with discarding larger garbage that they cannot take themselves.

Often people have materials in their homes that they don’t know how to properly dispose of. These common household items end up sitting in our garages or basements where they can be out of sight and out of mind, but below are proper ways to dispose of 5 common household items.

 5 Household items you may not know how to dispose of: 

There are many items that require special care in disposal. Live Science gives some suggestions on how to recycle hazardous materials.

  1. Motor Oil- To dispose of motor oil, place in a clear, sealed container and take it to a car service station or automotive store.
  2. Electronics- The EPA offers help with disposing of electronics.  Many places, such as Best Buy, will take old electronics and recycle them for you.
  3. Paint- 1-800-cleanup can be contacted for oil based paints. If paint is latex based then it must be dried out. For less than one inch of remaining paint it can be air dried. For larger amounts you can use cat litter by mixing it into the paint. Once the paint is dry it can be disposed of in the regular trash.
  4. Batteries- Call 1-800-batteries for information on disposal. Sometimes stores, like Walmart, take old car batteries and recycle them for you.
  5. Light-bulbs-Websites such as Earth911 can help find recycling locations near you. Stores such as Home Depot will also take fluorescent light bulbs and recycle them.




The Life Span of Commonly Thrown Away Items: 

Cigarette Butt:     1-5 years

Plastic Bag:           10-20 years

Aluminum Can:   200-500 years

Glass Bottle:         1 million years  




Residents of the state of West Virginia can help to alleviate the problem of illegal dumping by practicing prevention and helping to clean up already existing sites. Apart from residential help, the state increased fines for illegal dumping in 2010. According to the Charleston Gazette, cities and counties  work with the DEP to step up enforcement in problem areas. Motion cameras are installed to catch violators in the act.

Story, graphic and video by Shannon Stanley