LOST BUT LOVED
Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state Right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse.
We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. They were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.
Six-year-old Kayden Blaker drew angels for a month after his father died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl in December 2017. “He’s in counseling,” said his mother, Cassandra. “It was really tough at first. He would say, ‘Mom, I wish I could...
One of the biggest issues facing young children growing up in households affected by addiction is an inability to bond, says Jessy Miller, director of drug and alcohol programs at Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre. “It’s important...
After Matthew Swiderski died at 29 from an overdose Nov. 1, his family had a choice when writing his obituary. His struggles with addiction could have remained a private family matter, but they chose to help remove the stigma around addiction...
When Charles L. “Chaz” Perez III died in April one day before his 30th birthday, his father wanted to disclose why, and his son’s obituary noted he “lost his battle with heroin addiction.” “Everyone in my family was in 100 percent support of...
When Lauren Stewart and her 9-year-old son, Jacob Lanning, were watching “The Dark Knight,” Jacob was curious about the actor who played the Joker. “He asked why Heath Ledger wasn’t in the other Batmans, and I had to explain that he died the same way Dad...
The increasing toll of opioid deaths in recent years has coincided with the growing use of the Darknet, an unregulated, largely anonymous part of the Internet that often facilitates the sale of illegal drugs — especially the synthetic opioid...
The final hours of Brittany Moscatelli’s life remain a mystery, but what killed the 19-year-old is certain — an opioid overdose. Moscatelli’s body was discovered in a Wilkes-Barre area hotel room on Sept. 14, 2017. She had no ID on her, none of the jewelry...
Leaders at Northeast Pennsylvania’s medical school say ongoing initiatives to increase the number of mental health care providers locally and to incorporate behavioral health care at physical health care providers are important factors in...
Area agencies have been ramping up efforts to better address the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse in response to the opioid epidemic in Northeast Pennsylvania. This co-occurrence has long been recognized by mental health...
LUZERNE — John Havrilla knew his younger brother, Gary Havrilla, was not going to save himself. He was addicted to the drugs that killed him on July 1, 2017. The coroner found a mix of opioids, heroin and cocaine in his body, John Havrilla said. “I’ve seen...
As the death toll from the opioid crisis rises, some legislators have promoted involuntary commitment as a way to deal with the problem. In Pennsylvania, the law only allows involuntary commitment for someone who has a severe mental illness. The standards...
When the state Health Secretary visited northeast Pennsylvania during a recent health provider summit, Michael Arcangeletti slipped her a card. The bright blue card is his simple solution to help solve a complex, lingering problem — opioid addiction. The...
IN A CRISIS
Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-829-1341 or visit www.helpline-nepa.info.
The state has a similar program, “PA Get Help Now.” The phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HELP).
The Luzerne County Drug and Alcohol Program can be reached at 570-826-8790.
For a full list of resources and treatment centers, click here.
of the overdose victims in 2017 in Luzerne County were under the age of 35
After Matthew Swiderski died at 29 from an overdose Nov. 1, his family had a choice when writing his obituary. His struggles with addiction could have remained a private family matter, but they chose to help remove the stigma around addiction by being forthcoming. “We decided we were going to put it in,” said his sister, Jenny Swiderski Yonick. “I was adamant about that because I didn’t want another — ‘died at home or died unexpectedly.’ People need to know.”Click here to read more
Stopping the Epidemic
Click through to read what’s being done to combat the opioid epidemic in Luzerne County and beyond
Oversight coming for sober houses
Addicts seeking drug-and-alcohol-free housing upon leaving highly structured rehabilitation centers often face increased temptation and relapse when moving into unregulated “sober houses” being established across the state in response to the opioid crisis. Click here for more
Grieving families of some drug overdose victims are finding solace in the fact that surging deaths from the opioid epidemic have led to a record number of organ donations around the country. Click here to read more
Most everyone agrees that Luzerne County is in the grip of a deadly opioid epidemic that is killing off residents by the dozens. But when it comes to treating the very people who are dying, most everyone wants that care to happen somewhere other than where they live. Click here to read more.
Mental Health Care
Leaders at Northeast Pennsylvania’s medical school say ongoing initiatives to increase the number of mental health care providers locally and to incorporate behavioral health care at physical health care providers are important factors in addressing the opioid epidemic. Click here to read more.
Mental Illness and Addiction
Area agencies have been ramping up efforts to better address the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse in response to the opioid epidemic in Northeast Pennsylvania. Click here to read more.
Dangers of the Darknet
The increasing toll of opioid deaths in recent years has coincided with the growing use of the Darknet, an unregulated, largely anonymous part of the Internet that often facilitates the sale of illegal drugs — especially the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Click here to read more.
Impact on children
One of the biggest issues facing young children growing up in households affected by addiction is an inability to bond, says Jessy Miller, director of drug and alcohol programs at Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre. Click here to read more.
LISTEN: Woman helps Penn State students with drug and alcohol addiction issues
This episode of Take Note is part of “State of Emergency: Searching for solutions to Pennsylvania’s opioids epidemic.” State of Emergency is a combined effort of newsrooms across the state to draw attention to programs, therapies and strategies that are actually showing promise in the fight against this public health crisis.
Danielle Dormer is a mother and Army veteran in long term recovery from drug and alcohol use. She uses her experience to help Penn State students, serving as the assistant program coordinator for the Collegiate Recovery Community. She is also earning her Masters of Education in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling at Penn State, where she completed her undergraduate degree in 2017 earning a 4.0 GPA and the Outstanding Adult Student Award. She talked with WPSU’s Cheraine Stanford.
The Epidemic in our Backyard
This 30-minute documentary program from the Associated Press explores the opioid crisis in Western Pennsylvania on a broader level - with a focus on how over-prescription of opioid drugs led to today's epidemic. People who have experienced addiction, either themselves or through a loved one, share their stories of struggle, stigma and loss. But they also show how they've managed to use their pain as a catalyst for change, providing hope for others.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Every Sunday since mid-May, The Citizens’ Voice has profiled one of our neighbors lost to the region’s opioid epidemic, charting month by month the 151 overdose deaths that broke records in Luzerne County in 2017.
We’ve talked to parents who lost their sons and daughters, grieving spouses, traumatized children and siblings who watched their brothers and sisters slide into addiction and then slip away. These were not easy stories to tell, report or read and week after week another came, relentlessly.
Imagine that instead of one tragic story per week, there were three. That’s the rate of overdose deaths in this county — three per week.
Our goals in pursuing this project were to help relieve some of the stigma associated with death by overdose and to identify and address the issues arising from those deaths.
Other than telling the stories of lives cut short, stories that have often been neglected in coverage of this epidemic, what has been achieved? What have we learned?
In the past 11 weeks, we’ve learned that prescription pain killers continue to be a gateway toward addiction to heroin and even deadlier fentanyl and that some doctors’ prescription practices — overprescribing initially and abruptly cutting off prescriptions – often lead to deadlier street drug addictions.
We’ve learned that addiction in many cases is tied to other psychological issues and that our region lacks a robust mental health network for dealing with those issues, despite efforts by the local healthcare community to address the gap.
We’ve learned that involuntary commitment and treatment remain controversial topics, with some arguing it is the only way to reach some users while others question the legality and effectiveness of forced rehabilitation.
We’ve learned some members of our community remain resistant to having treatment centers or sober houses in their neighborhoods, despite evidence of widespread abuse across all geographic, racial and economic lines. The problem is everywhere. Efforts to deal with it should be everywhere too.
We’ve learned there are hundreds of professionals, volunteers, survivors and people in recovery working tirelessly in clinics, support groups and other settings to address these issues. They deserve our thanks and support.
Finally we would like to extend our thanks to the families who chose to share their grief, memories and love for those they have lost. We can only hope we have done their stories justice.