Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum FoundationCAMCMarshall Health and WVU Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton will be covering topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

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West Virginia is in crisis. As the opioid epidemic grows, we are producing a generation of children impacted by addiction. In October of 2018, more than 6600 children were in the foster care system. And as of May 2018, 83% of open child abuse/neglect cases involved drugs.

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West Virginia University has been awarded 11.2 million dollars to establish a center that focuses on what might make a tumor more likely to grow.

The National Institutes of Medicine awarded WVU a five-year grant to study microenvironments surrounding tumors. The idea is that just as a plant is likely to grow in a sunny garden, a benign tumor may be more likely to grow or become cancerous if its surroundings are primed for growth.

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Research from West Virginia University School of Medicine suggests that if teenagers vape into adulthood, the cardiovascular effects may be as bad as if they’d smoked cigarettes.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After a recent round table discussion about West Virginia Kids Health as it relates to the opioid epidemic, Harrison County prosecuting attorney Rachel Romano spoke with Kara Lofton about her work, the juvenile justice system and potential solutions for keeping West Virginia’s kids out of the court. 

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An epidemiology professor at West Virginia University School of Public Health is studying the potential benefits of simple meditation or music listening for improving memory and cognitive functioning in adults exhibiting warning signs for Alzheimer’s.

Warnings sign for Alzheimer’s can include losing one’s train of thought, forgetting the content of a movie soon after the credits roll and feeling overwhelmed when making plans or coordinating events.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rahul Gupta, MD has resigned from his post as commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, effective Nov. 5. Gupta is moving to the March of Dimes as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.

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Antar Jutla is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at WVU. Jutla has been instrumental in developing a computer program that has helped predict and prevent the spread of cholera in war-torn Yemen. Kara Lofton spoke with Jutla about how super computers and data can impact the spread of waterborne diseases after both natural and manmade disasters.

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A West Virginia University researcher has been awarded a $13.3 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to compare three treatment strategies for rural depressed patients.

Rates of depression tend to be higher in rural areas, and accessing treatment is more difficult.

WVU professor Robert Bossarte will compare three treatment options: prescribing antidepressants alone, antidepressants combined with unguided online cognitive behavior therapy, and antidepressants combined with guided online cognitive behavior therapy. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court began Tuesday, Sept. 4. Kavanaugh is considerably more conservative than the justice he would replace — a fact celebrated by the anti-abortion advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

The organization has been touring several states during the past few weeks, urging democratic senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

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An analysis of 130 metropolitan areas found that Appalachia has some of the highest rates of pre-existing health conditions in the nation. The report comes in the midst of continued federal proposals to weaken pre-existing condition requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Among other things, the ACA guaranteed people access to insurance regardless of how healthy they are. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies could decline to provide insurance to people with type two diabetes or cancer, for instance.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For friends, Becka, Holly and Katie, findings spaces where they feel safe to speak, act and think the way they want can be hard to find.

 

 

Getting outdoors, often with one another or other female companions, is one place the can do that.

During a recent two-day backpacking trip in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Tucker County, they recounted some of the freedoms they feel afforded in the wilderness.

 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping in to help the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health track data and investigate a 2018 Hepatitis A outbreak.

The DHHR reports that as of mid-August, West Virginia has had 975 cases of Hepatitis A in 2018. The majority of these cases have been in Kanawha followed by Putnam counties. Therefore, the CDC will focus its efforts in these areas as well.

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A new study found checking work email during nonwork hours may be detrimental to your health.

The report out of Virginia Tech found that when employers expect personnel to monitor work email after hours, the result was increased employee anxiety, which affected not only the worker themselves, but their families as well.

The study found that employees don’t actually need to spend time on work in their off hours to experience harmful effects – just the expectation of availability was enough to increase strain for employees and their significant other.

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If you are night owl struggling with your weight, you may want to consider becoming early bird instead. A new study has found people with prediabetes who have an “evening preference,” have a higher body mass index than those who do things earlier in the day.

 

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet type 2 diabetes.

 

The study compared patients with prediabetes who go to bed, eat meals, and are more active and alert later in the day with those who do things earlier in the day. 

 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Some medications used to treat opioid use disorders can be abused if taken in large amounts or injected. Others, such as suboxone, prevent the effect of the opioids. Two WVU researchers are studying whether this drug could be used to treat pregnant women with opioid use disorders. Kara  Lofton spoke with researcher Laura Lander about the findings and the challenges of treating pregnant women.

LOFTON: Your research focuses on treating opioid use disorders in pregnant women. What are the challenges with working with this particular patient population?

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States, including West Virginia, have seen a spike in death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide, commonly known as “deaths of despair.”

Research from the private health care research organization the Commonwealth Fund found that nationwide, while drug deaths were the smallest contributor to deaths of despair in 2005, they were by far the largest in 2016. In the same time period, deaths from suicide and alcohol rose 25 percent.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Studies have found that American millennials lead the country in pet ownership, fueling the $69 billion pet industry — an industry that has grown three times since the mid 90s.

 

 


Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A few weeks ago, community members  and physicians gathered for a town hall in Beckley, West Virginia. On the agenda? Whether a new psychiatric clinic downtown should be allowed to do medication-assisted treatment from their building.

“What matters is – it’s our neighborhood,” said community member Patty Teubert. “I don’t understand why you don’t hear that.”

Teubert was acting as the spokeswoman for others opposed to the facility, which seemed to be in the overwhelming majority in the meeting.

Angie Gray, Nurse Director for the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department, shows a box of sealed, sterile syringes given to participants in her harm reduction program.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Across West Virginia, people are fighting back against the opioid epidemic and pushing the message of recovery. Some of these people run harm reduction clinics – which sometimes include needle exchanges. We meet a nurse in the Eastern Panhandle who runs one of these programs.

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One recent evening at Blackwater State Park, naturalist Paulita Cousins was leading about two dozen visitors on a night hike by the lake.

“When it’s dark we’re naturally supposed to be ...?” she asked.

“Sleeping,” the group responded in unison.  

“And light,” she warned, “is actually messing up a chemical in our body to make us be healthy individuals.”

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The West Virginia University School of Medicine has launched a new accelerated program for medical students.

In a press release, WVU said the Mountaineer Accelerated Track to Enter Residency program will shave a semester off of the four-year medical degree program. This move, they said, is to give students an option to graduate with less debt and try and get medical professionals into patient care sooner to meet the state’s health needs.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

To the background of interstate traffic, members of the group Pro-life Court Coalition stood in front of Senator Joe Manchin’s Charleston office, asking Senator Manchin to confirm Kavanaugh, a pro-life supporter, as the new Supreme Court Justice.

“Once again, President Trump is keeping his word by nominating Judge Kavanaugh, an extremely well-qualified judge who will respect and uphold the constitution, not legislate from the bench,” said Jill Stanek, chair of the conservative anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List, and one the speakers.

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West Virginia native doctor Patrice Harris has been elected as the first black woman president of the American Medical Association. Harris spoke with reporter Kara Lofton recently about her new appointment and what she hopes to accomplish in the position.

LOFTON: West Virginia, and Appalachia as a whole, have a history of health issues. Being familiar with this region, what policies might help improve the health of this region from the perspective of the American Medical Association?

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Medication adherence – or lack of it is a really big deal in healthcare. A 2017 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Americans not taking medicine as prescribed caused 125,000 deaths, 10 percent of hospitalizations and cost the healthcare system between $100–$289 billion a year. But a new study has found an easy fix for the problem.

Basically? Charge people less. The study published this month in Health Affairs found that the more patients have to pay for their prescriptions, the less likely they are to take them as directed.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In the 1980s, some people in Japan developed a concept called Shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing or forest therapy. The idea is simple — natural areas offer calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to visitors. And yet even in a state as rural and forested as West Virginia, accessing natural areas can be difficult.

 

 

In bustling Morgantown, White Park is an oasis, with trails through wooded areas and a reservoir.

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A new study has found that the combination of low muscle mass and high fat mass in older adults may be an important predictor in cognitive function later in life. 

Loosing muscle mass is a natural part of aging, as is gaining some weight. But both conditions also have negative impacts on overall health and cognitive function and together they may have a greater threat – surpassing individual impact, according to a new study published today in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the Charleston Civic Center, pairs of boxers in four rings are fighting bouts at the same time. For the fourth year, Charleston is hosting the boxing Junior Olympics. Almost 700 athletes from all over the country, ages 8-18, are competing for a national title in their age and weight divisions.

The kids are lithe and share an expression of determination as coaches check wraps, adjust headgear and pat thin shoulders on the back. The fighters face one another, tap gloves and begin.

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Marshall Health has begun construction on what will soon be the largest residential treatment facility in the region for women suffering from substance use disorder and their children.

In cooperation with the Huntington City Mission, Marshall Health is renovating a 15,000 square-foot building formerly known as “Project Hope.” The new project will be called Project Hope for Women and Children and is funded through a grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

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Enrollment in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces fell in most states across the country in the past year, including West Virginia, while 15 states saw enrollment increases, according to a new Urban Institute report. But West Virginia and Louisiana had the MOST significant drops at almost 20 percent and 24 percent fewer enrollees, respectively.

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A new study finds that medications used to treat opioid use disorder are greatly underutilized even though they’re proven to significantly reduce chances of opioid-related deaths. 

 

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