Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 4, 2013

A busy headline week for Bluefield, while drug problem continues to plague area

Lots of news from the city of Bluefield last week, with the highlight being the swearing in of five new board members. In the June election all incumbents running for office were ousted, and newcomers Tom Cole, Barbara Smith, Michael Gibson, Ellen Light and Chuck McGonagle will now be leading the city.

Cole will be serving as Bluefield’s new mayor, with Smith as vice mayor. They were selected to serve in the posts by the board during an organizational meeting last month.

What is interesting to note is the actions that took place between the election and the swearing in of the new board. While many lame duck officials opt to go out quietly, the previous Bluefield board members continued on their chosen path for development until days before the new board members took office.

Case in point: Roundhouse Square, perhaps better known by its previous name, the Colonial Intermodel Center. While this site of a future bus stop/business incubator has been much ballyhooed by the previous board, many newly-elected members expressed serious concerns about the project during pre-election editorial board sessions with the Daily Telegraph.

One would have thought that city officials would have paused on the project and given the new board time to evaluate it. But that didn’t happen. Instead they moved forward, and last Monday — two days before the swearing in of the new board on Wednesday — they held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Railroad and Coal Heritage Interpretive Walk, described as a prelude to the Roundhouse Square project.

It will be interesting to see what happens at this site — a prime business location — in the coming months.

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A tire-cutting spree in Bluefield also generated headlines last week. Many residents of Union, Frederick, Albemarle and Augusta streets awoke Thursday to find tires on their vehicles had been slashed.

Although it may appear to be a random act of vandalism, it is certain those who were victims of this crime are feeling the pain.

This isn’t the first rash of vandalism reported in the city. Readers might recall a horrific act in early June in which offensive expressions were spray painted on a city church and other graffiti was painted on sheds, outbuildings and fences.

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Among other news last week were guilty pleas from several defendants arrested as part of the Bluefield Pill Initiative and a story detailing how prostitution stemming from drug addiction has spurred an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Mercer County.

We at the Telegraph have been documenting the drug plague for years, as well as the resulting increase in prostitution. As residents of this area, we see the girls for hire lining streets in Princeton, Bluefield and along Route 52.  And so we were not surprised to learn that STD rates had jumped this year.

The usual number of STD cases in the county is 10 to 15, county public health nurse Judy Bolton, RN, told the Telegraph last week. But in June of this year, the health department saw 27 cases.

“It’s been especially worse since January this year,” Bolton said. “We are having a huge number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases, which are sexually transmitted diseases. And there is treatment for those people who come in and get treatment; if they don’t, they can get complications. They need to realize that HIV and hepatitis B is transmitted the same way as chlamydia and gonorrhea.”

Bolton cites prostitution as a big factor among the STD cases. “They’re a big problem here. It’s been worse this past year than we’ve ever seen it before.”

Engaging in prostitution and drug abuse are high-risk behaviors, but it is difficult to track prostitutes who are spreading STDs, Bolton said, noting that people who have had contact with prostitutes often cannot provide much information about them to health care authorities.

“When you’re talking about somebody who has been with a prostitute, our job is to bring them (prostitutes) in and get them treated,” Bolton said. “You can never get the names of prostitutes and it’s hard to track them down.”

An added note: Mercer County still leads the nation for having the highest number, by population, of hepatitis B rates and it is ranked in the top five for hepatitis C.

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Those who question the threat of the drug plague in southern West Virginia should take a look at the numbers. The STD numbers. The hepatitis numbers. The robbery and burglary numbers. The overdose numbers.

Junkies are constantly robbing hard-working citizens. They are stealing from stores, from homes, from outbuildings — anything they can pawn to get a fix.

Then, many are killing themselves — overdosing at home or in cheap motel rooms, their final hurrah a police scanner call of an “unattended death.”

Drug abuse is tainting, staining and crippling the very culture of southern West Virginia. The Bluefield Pill Initiative is a good start, but it’s only the beginning. We must open our eyes to this problem and treat it as the war that it is.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline. Follow her at @BDTPerry.

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