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2018-5-10

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Brunswick County Public Schools Two Hour Delay Thursday

Brunswick Academy Two Hour Delay Thursday

Appamattox Regional Governor's School Closed Thursday

If your destination is not listed here, please call ahead and ensure that they are open.

This list updated from WRIC, WWBT and WTVR Wednesday at 21:45

Sharing Security With Mom on Mother’s Day

By Jacqueline Weisgarber, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, Virginia

Spring is upon us, and it marks two very popular annual events: Mother’s Day and the release of Social Security’s baby name list! There’s no better time to share some security with the people you love.

While spending time with your mom on Sunday, May 13, you can help her quickly and easily sign up for a free, online my Social Security account. You can do it from home, which means more time doing the things you want to do together.

Signing up for a my Social Security account will give Mom the tools she needs to stay on top of her Social Security benefits. When she signs up at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, she can do a number of things.

If she does not receive benefits, she can:

  • Request a replacement Social Security card if she meets certain requirements;
  • Check the status of her application or appeal.
  • Get her Social Security Statement, to review:
  • Estimates of her future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits;
  • Her earnings once a year to verify the amounts that we posted are correct; and
  • The estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes she’s paid.

If she does receive benefits, she can:

·         Request a replacement Social Security card if she meets certain requirements;

·         Report her wages if she works and receives Disability Insurance benefits;

·         Get her benefit verification letter;

·         Check her benefit and payment information and her earnings record;

·         Change her address and phone number;

·         Start or change direct deposit of her benefit payment;

·         Request a replacement Medicare card; and

·         Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season.

Is Mom not yet receiving Social Security benefits and still planning her retirement? Does she need a little help calculating how her benefit amount fits in with her other income sources in retirement? It’s easy to get instant, personalized benefit estimates, too. Our Retirement Estimator is the only source that provides Mom with Social Security estimates based on her own earnings record. This allows her to receive the most accurate estimate of her future retirement benefits. Visit the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

Did you know that you and Mom can also share the 10 most popular male and female baby names of 2017? Social Security is the source for the most popular baby names, and we reveal the new names every year to celebrate Mother’s Day. Be sure to check our site around Mother’s Day at www.socialsecurity.gov/oact/babynames/.

Sharing information about Social Security and helping Mom sign up for a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount is a meaningful gift that shows you really care.

SVCC Nursing Program Wins Excellence in Education Award

The Southside Virginia Community College  Associate Degree Nursing Program's Student Success Initiative 'Team Up To Dream Up! ' received the Virginia Community College System Excellence in Education Award at the New Horizons Conference.   Dr. Michelle Edmonds (Left), Dean of Nursing, Allied Health and Natural Sciences is shown with SVCC President Dr. Al Roberts (Right).  SVCC won in the category of Integrated Student Support.

Virginia Seeks to Curb Rising Number of Missing Persons

 

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Morgan Harrington went to a concert in Charlottesville in 2009 and did not make it home. Keeshae Jacobs was headed to a friend’s house in Richmond in 2016 but never arrived. Ashanti Billie disappeared after leaving for work in Virginia Beach in 2017.

Those three young women were among the hundreds of “missing person” cases investigated in Virginia over the past decade. Two of them – Harrington and Billie – were murdered; Jacobs has yet to be found.

Across the United States, as many as 90,000 people could be missing at any given moment, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The number increases substantially every year, according to the AWARE Foundation.

More than 240 adults are missing in Virginia, according to the Virginia State Police. In 2016, a fairly typical year, 14 names were added to the list. But last year, the list grew by 39 names – and so far this year, 17 more people in Virginia have gone missing. State officials and organizations are looking to reduce the number of missing persons by creating a new alert system and raising awareness about the problem.

Legislation Regarding Missing Persons

Currently, Virginia authorities issue alerts and mobilize search resources only when people of certain ages go missing:

  • If the person is 17 or younger, the state can issue an Amber Alert or an Endangered Missing Child Media Alert.
  • If the person is 60 or older, the state can issue a Senior Alert, sometimes called a Silver Alert.

But Virginia hasn’t had an alert system to warn people to look for a missing adult between the ages of 18 and 59 – until now.

During the 2018 legislative session, Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, D-Norfolk, successfully sponsored HB 260, which will create an alert system for missing persons who are neither children nor senior citizens. The new notification will be called an Ashanti Alert in honor of Billie Ashanti, who was abducted last year from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, where she worked at a sandwich shop, and later found dead in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jones’ bill received unanimous support in the House and Senate and from community groups and citizens.

“What was striking,” Jones said, “was the number of people who reached out to me saying this happened” – that they had a friend or family member who had gone missing.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law in March. It will take effect July 1.

Under the new Virginia Critically Missing Adult Alert Program, law enforcement officials will be able to send a local, regional or statewide alert if they believe a missing person has been abducted and the “disappearance poses a credible threat” to the individual’s health and safety.

The Ashanti Alerts will go to the media, who then could inform the public to be on the lookout for the missing adult.

Jones’ measure wasn’t the only bill about missing persons proposed this legislative session.

Current law states that people who have been missing are presumed dead after seven years. Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, proposed HB 1565 to shorten the time span to two years; however, the proposal failed.

Brewer’s bill would have significantly reduced the number of active missing person cases in Virginia by classifying about 75 of them as legally dead.

For people such as Keeshae Jacobs’ mom, Toni Jacobs, reducing the number of years before being presumed dead would be crushing. Her daughter has been missing since September 2016, and she has not given up hope. Toni Jacobs continuously posts on social media, attends events to spread the word and advocates for other missing persons.

“I want people to know this is happening. It could be happening to not just my daughter but someone else’s daughter,” Jacobs said.

She said she will not give up until her daughter is found.

Raising Awareness about the Problem

Last year, in an effort to support missing persons and their families, Virginia designated a day in April as Missing Persons Day. The second annual event was held April 28.

There are at least 240 people aged 18 and up who have gone missing in the state. They include 22 people from Richmond, 14 each from Norfolk and Chesapeake, and 13 from Virginia Beach.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services created a resource guide for families on the first steps they should take when a member goes missing. According to the department, Virginia does not have a waiting period in order to file a missing person case. As a result, law enforcement agencies can send out an alert right away if they deem it necessary.

Across the nation, organizations have been formed to support efforts to find missing persons and to offer help to families.

Although putting faces on milk cartons was phased out by the Amber Alert system in the late 1990s, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides missing person listings by direct mail and online.

In Virginia, the AWARE Foundation and Help Save The Next Girl seek to educate people about predatory violence and advocate for families of missing persons.

AWARE stands for “Always Watch and Recognize your Environment.” The foundation works to connect people to search and rescue teams, events and law enforcement agencies.

Help Save The Next Girl, a nonprofit based in Roanoke, was founded by Gil and Dan Harrington after their 20-year-old daughter, Morgan Harrington, was abducted and murdered in Charlottesville. Although Morgan went missing mid-October 2009, her remains were not found until the following January when a farmer was driving his tractor through an Albemarle County pasture.

The organization works to educate school- and college-aged women on the dangers of predatory crimes and how to protect themselves.

“There have not been a lot of families who speak about abduction, rape and murder of their daughters,” Gil Harrington said. “At the end, you are devastated. How do you be an advocate at that point?”

The Harrington family also provides emotional and other support to people who have a relative who has gone missing.

“I’ve helped a lot of families pay for funerals and electric bills because when they’re in court, they’re not making money,” Harrington said.

Rural County Accuses Drug Makers of Fueling Opioid Epidemic

 

By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

Tucked between news of budget meetings and beauty pageant winners published in The Dickenson Star’s 2017 “Year in Review” is a grim statistic: Dickenson County was first in the state and sixth in the nation in opioid overdose deaths per capita.

In Dickenson County, in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia bordering Kentucky, residents have been dying of prescription opioid overdoses in recent years at a rate of about 40 per 100,000 people – more than seven times the statewide rate.

The newspaper’s annual review is cited in the introduction of a lawsuit filed by Dickenson County against 30 pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and providers including Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories and CVS Health Co.

Represented by the Sanford Heisler Sharp law firm and the Cicala Law Firm, Dickenson is suing for $30 million in damages. The suit says the defendants deliberately increased the flow of opioids into the county, state and country.

The case is one of the latest examples of communities across the nation suing pharmaceutical companies and associated businesses and alleging that they had a role in creating the epidemic. In Virginia, the city of Alexandria is suing for $100 million while in neighboring Maryland, Montgomery and Prince George counties have also taken legal action.

Joanne Cicala, founder of the Cicala Law Firm, which has offices in Texas and New York, says those who are responsible for and profited from the epidemic must be held accountable for its costs.

“The opioid epidemic is not accidental. It is not a natural disaster; it is a man-made crisis,” Cicala said. “And worse – the companies that did this were not just seeking to build market share – they knew they were creating addicts.”

In more than 100 pages, the lawsuit tells the story of how Dickenson County – with a population of fewer than 16,000 residents spread out over 334 square miles – was drawn into a prescription opioid overdose epidemic that claimed more than 500 lives across the state in 2017.

Did manufacturers ‘push opioid as safe, effective drugs’?

As with any drug that enters the prescription market, the distribution process begins with manufacturers. In the case of the opioid epidemic, one of the manufacturers is Purdue Pharma, a company known for its best-selling opioid – OxyContin.

In Dickenson County, the lawsuit claims, Purdue Pharma and other defendants recognized “the enormous financial possibilities associated with expanding the opioid market.” So they “rolled out a massive and concerted campaign to misrepresent the addictive qualities of their product, and to push opioids as safe, effective drugs for the treatment of chronic pain,” the suit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, the drug manufacturers took part in a “campaign of deception” rooted in a since-disavowed study by Dr. Russell Portenoy published in the medical journal Pain in 1986.

In the study, Portenoy claimed that opioids could be used for long periods of time “without any risk of addiction” to treat chronic pain unrelated to cancer. The study said patients in pain would not become addicted to opioids because their pain drowned out the euphoria associated with the drugs.

Within a decade, Portenoy was financed by at least a dozen pharmaceutical companies, most of which produced prescription opioids.

The lawsuit argues that Portenoy’s study – paired with the practice of spending millions of dollars on promotional activities that understated the risks of opioids – not only legitimized but normalized the prescribing of opioids in Dickenson and across the country.

In the case of OxyContin – Purdue’s time-released version of oxycodone – promotional materials given to physicians included this key sentence: “Delayed absorption as provided by OxyContin tablets is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug.”

The drug companies’ sales representatives marketed directly to physicians, ensuring that doctors would be advocates for certain drugs, the lawsuit said. As a result, it contended, the pharmaceutical manufacturers were able to insert their products directly into specific markets.

In 2014 alone, the manufacturing defendants named in the Dickenson lawsuit spent more than $168 million on pursuing branded opioid sales contracts with doctors, the lawsuit said.

Twenty-six years after publishing his study justifying the prescription of opioids, Portenoy acknowledged that he erred in understating the risks of addiction associated with such drugs.

“Did I teach about pain management, specifically about opioid therapy, in a way that reflects misinformation? Well, against the standards of 2012, I guess I did,” Portenoy said in an interview that year with The Wall Street Journal. “We didn’t know then what we know now.”

How pharmacy benefit managers influence drug prices

As explained in the lawsuit, pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, are the middleman between the manufacturers and the marketplace; they influence which drugs are used most frequently, set prices for pharmacies and control what drugs are covered by health insurance providers.

PBMs include Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRX – all named as defendants in the lawsuit. These companies serve as gatekeepers through controlling lists known as “drug formularies” that identify prescription drugs with the greatest overall value.

PBMs and pharmaceutical companies negotiate financial arrangements, including rebates for preferred placement on drug formularies, the lawsuit said. It said manufacturers compete for spots on the list in order to ensure greater utilization of the drugs they make.

Not only do PBMs have the power to make opioids cheaper – they can make less addictive medications harder to acquire, the lawsuit said. For example, it said, United Healthcare places morphine on its lowest-cost coverage tier with no prior permission required; in contrast, Lyrica, a non-opioid drug prescribed for nerve pain, is on the most expensive tier, requiring patients to try other drugs first.

Not just a health crisis but an economic one

The impact of the opioid epidemic in Dickenson County is multifaceted. While the county’s overdose rates are the most conspicuous consequence of the epidemic, the increased flow of opioids into the region has had a ripple effect on the county’s economy, health care system and workforce.

In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified Dickenson County as one of eight Virginia counties that are vulnerable to the rapid dissemination of HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who inject drugs.

L. Christopher Plein, a professor of public administration at West Virginia University, said the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, but it also has far-reaching economic consequences.

“Communities become severely stressed by having to respond and deal with this crisis, and they may lack the resources to provide treatment, engage law enforcement and provide recovery services,” Plein said. “These communities may not be as attractive to outside investors and businesses if they develop a reputation of being tied to the opioid epidemic.”

The lawsuit argues that the opioid epidemic has significantly and negatively impacted nearly every aspect of the county’s $26 million budget and the public services it provides, including health care, emergency medical services, social services, law enforcement and drug prevention, education and treatment.

Dickenson County has had to buy opioid antagonists such as naloxone – medications that can reverse drug overdoses. Moreover, the county has lost tax revenues because of the opioid crisis, the lawsuit said.

For example, the drug epidemic has affected the job market and workforce in Dickenson County. The Virginia Employment Commission reported last week that Dickenson’s unemployment rate in March was 6.6 percent – double the statewide rate. Dickenson had the fifth-highest jobless rate among Virginia’s 133 counties and cities.

Del. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, says these consequences can no longer be ignored.

“Dickenson County is on the tipping point of having an unemployable workforce,” Pillion said. “They have difficulty recruiting industry because the only articles in the news are talking about overdoses and opioids.”

Purdue responds: ‘No longer promoting opioids’

In response to the growing number of lawsuits brought against the company, Purdue Pharma announced in February that it would stop marketing opioid drugs to doctors.

“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a written statement.

Purdue officials said that they cut their sales staff in half in the week following the announcement and that the remaining staff would pivot to focus on other products.

Kevin Sharp, lead counsel for Dickenson County’s lawsuit, called the announcement a step in the right direction. But he said the damage already inflicted demands a more comprehensive response.

“There’s a lot more that has to be done to solve this problem,” Sharp said. “They have to remedy past harm. And the parties are going to have to work together to find out the best way to minimize – and end if possible – the harm that is being caused.”

Purdue Pharma has yet to file a response to the Dickenson County lawsuit but provided the following statement:

“We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines with collaborative efforts to solve this public health challenge.

“Although our products account for less than 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone.”

Expanding treatment for opioid addiction

In April 2017, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services launched the Addiction Recovery and Treatment Services program to help increase access to treatment for Virginians battling opioid addiction.

The ARTS program was established primarily to help ease the burden on hospital emergency departments in treating patients with opioid-related issues, particularly in rural areas like Dickenson County.

The program expands treatment to Medicaid recipients by combining traditional medicine with counseling and other support systems. It also offers training and financial incentives to providers to encourage participation among outpatient treatment centers, doctors and hospitals.

“Providers are responding to the critical need for addiction treatment,” said Dr. Katherine Neuhausen, chief medical officer for DMAS. “Today, more than 350 new organizations are providing these life-saving services to Virginia Medicaid members. The number of outpatient opioid treatment services has increased from six to 108, including 79 office-based opioid treatment programs combining medication with counseling and other essential supports.”

According to an evaluation by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy, the program has increased the number of Medicaid recipients receiving treatment for opioid addiction by more than 50 percent, and the number of opioid-related emergency hospital visits by Medicaid recipients declined by nearly one third.

(Editor's Note: According to the data compiled as this story was researched, from 2007-2017 there have been 2 opioid-related deaths in the City of Emporia and 3 in Greensville County. During that time frame 3.2% of the total deaths in the City and 2.3% of the total deaths in the County were opioid-related as compared with the 35.5% mortality rate in Dickenson County - in both 2007 and 2011 more than half of the deaths in Dickenson County were opioid-related)

Southwest Virginia Legislator Targets Opioid Crisis

As a health care professional, state Del. Todd Pillion of Abingdon has a special perspective on the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the localities he represents in Virginia’s General Assembly.

Pillion, a pediatric dentist, has successfully sponsored key legislation to address the crisis. He represents the 4th House District, which includes Dickenson County and parts of Wise, Russell and Washington counties.

“Virginia has become a leader in passing not only legislation but regulations through the Board of Medicine and Dentistry,” Pillion said. “There’s no magic bullet – this epidemic isn’t going to go away no matter what we do. But we have seen improvements.”

During this year’s regular legislative session, the General Assembly passed three opioid-related bills introduced by Pillion, a Republican who was elected in 2014. Gov. Ralph Northam has signed the measures into law:

  • HB 1556 will add the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone and other Schedule 5 drugs for which a prescription is required to Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program. This will allow the Virginia Department of Health to monitor whether prescribers and dispensers are following state regulations and to deter the illegitimate use of prescription drugs. By adding naloxone to the list, officials can track if it is being co-prescribed with opiates in order to prevent fatal overdoses.
  • HB 1157 will require the Department of Health to develop and implement a plan of action for substance-exposed infants in Virginia. The plan must support a “trauma-informed approach” to identifying and treating substance-exposed infants and their caregivers, explore how to improve screening of substance-using pregnant women, and use multidisciplinary approaches to intervention and service delivery during the prenatal period and following birth.
  • HB 1173. Under current law, physicians who prescribe opioids are not required to request information from Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program as long as the prescription does not exceed 14 days and is treatment for a surgical or invasive procedure. HB 1173 eliminates the exception for prescriptions related to surgical and invasive procedures to bypass the PMP.

The three new laws will take effect July 1.

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