Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Register-Herald, Bleckley, W.Va., on unused drugs:
Our front page on Sunday featured a pair of stories that at first glance seemed to be just separate reports, placed side-by-side merely because that was the best way to put the page together.
One story was about Beckley police officers taking part in Drug Take-Back Day, and the thousands of prescription medications and pills that were shifted from home medicine cabinets to police custody and eventual destruction.
The other was an illuminating feature focusing on Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, in which he meticulously takes us through the process of how law enforcement officers make an arrest.
Sadly, these stories are deeply interconnected these days in southern West Virginia.
Beckley Police Chief Lonnie Christian had this to say about Drug Take-Back Day: "It keeps them from just keeping it at their house where it may pose a danger or maybe encourage someone to try to come in and get some medication.
"It could keep teens or children from taking that medication."
In West Virginia, that is particularly important. The number of drug overdose deaths — a majority from prescription drug abuse — has increased by more than 600 percent since 1999.
West Virginia now has the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States.
Some national facts from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than motor vehicle crashes.
- Enough painkillers were prescribed to medicate each American adult every four hours for one month.
- Roughly one in 20 people in the United States report using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons each year.
Which brings us back to Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, and the other prong of our connected stories.
Because there is another path that leads from that unlocked and available medicine cabinet in the bathroom. And it can lead to jail, or to prison.
As Judge Kirkpatrick noted, at the time an arrest is made, a police officer reads the suspect his or her Miranda rights, based on a Supreme Court ruling that all arrestees must be made aware of their right not to incriminate themselves and that they are entitled to representation by a lawyer.
We've heard it a million times, in every police or detective show on television: "You have the right to remain silent."
Not all teens who experiment with drugs will hear those words spoken by a law officer, not will they necessarily go down the path of overdose or incarceration.
In keeping with the spirit of the Miranda warning, we'd like to offer another option when it comes to unused prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet.
You have the right to get rid of them.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on higher education:
In the fall of 2013, total college enrollment at public institutions in West Virginia was down about 4.3 percent from 2009.
For a state with the some of the lowest educational attainment levels in the country, that is a big problem.
About 18 percent of West Virginians 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or higher, the U.S. Census reports. That is significantly lower that the national average of 28.5 percent and the lowest rate in the country — a point or two lower than Mississippi and Arkansas.
Certainly, the decline in enrollment is affected by demographic changes, including fewer high school graduates in some areas of the state. But West Virginia still has plenty of room to grow its college enrollment among those who need it most.
About 40 percent of high school graduates in the state do not go on to community college or four-year college, and that's not counting the 20-25 percent of high school students who drop out before graduation.
So, how much of the decline is about affordability and the cost of a college education?
With another round of tuition increases this spring, that is something state leaders need to be watching very closely.
The Marshall University Board of Governors last week raised tuition and fees about 5 percent for in-state students, bringing the annual costs to about $6,524, not including room and board. With significant cuts in state funding, most board members apparently felt they had little choice.
Marshall has lost about $11 million in state funds in recent years, and the result has been about a 15 percent increase in tuition costs since 2011-12.
Even with those increases, Marshall is still a great value. The national average for in-state students is $8,893, according to the College Board's Trends in Higher Education Report — more than $2,000 a year more than the cost for Marshall students.
But in a state with some of the lowest incomes in the country, the expense of college — even perceptions about the expense of college — has to be a factor.
The state certainly faces its own budget challenges with looming health-care costs and declining revenue. So finding additional funds or reallocating funds for higher education will be difficult. But if continued cuts to higher education translate into fewer graduates, West Virginia will pay a bigger price for many years to come.
It is time for lawmakers to tackle this issue and make sure the state is investing in schools and programs that are going to grow the number of graduates. That may mean linking funding to those results.
But standing by and watching enrollment decline is not an option. Our young people need a post-secondary education to prosper, and the state needs a more educated workforce to survive.
Higher education has to be a top priority for the 2015 legislative session.