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.
One of the newest treatment centers to combat the opioid crisis in Luzerne County is the Medication-Assisted Treatment Addiction Clinic at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre. The facility is similar to a methadone clinic, but uses buprenorphine...
Wyoming County Human Services Director Michael Donahue has seen it hundreds of times. A drug or alcohol addict gets clean at a treatment facility then returns to the same environment and relapses. A new initiative in the drug and alcohol...
They are women connected by a fate none of them wanted. Together, they are trying to accept it. All of them lost a child or a family member to a drug overdose. They call themselves “Moms of Cherished Angels.” In addition to offering support to...
HAZLE TWP. — Jason Generose had some harsh words for the person he was. “I became a master liar, thief, manipulator, dealer, user,” he said. “I always thought I was a terrible person and that’s who I was and who I always was going to be. That’s...
FREELAND — Inside a nondescript home on Chestnut Street, the living space has been transformed into a shrine to a mother’s grief, a constant reminder that Nikki Lee Bertolette died hiding a terrible secret. Dozens of smiling pictures of...
WILKES-BARRE — After Carol Coolbaugh’s son died of an overdose in 2009, she tried attending bereavement meetings to help with her grief. But listening to others talk about loved ones dying of natural causes or accidents or illnesses didn’t...
EDWARDSVILLE — The last years of Jack Zakrewski’s life were tough. After suffering a heart attack years earlier, Zakrewski, 62, had been on disability toward the end of his life and struggled with back pain as well. “I know he was in a lot of pain, because...
WILKES-BARRE — 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...
Addiction can ruin or end a life at any age. Paul Sorokas was 75 when he died on April 1, 2017, the oldest person to die from a drug overdose in Luzerne County last year. Sorokas, a fun-loving but hard-working man known as “Bobo” who lived in...
You are never too old to suffer from addiction, especially addiction to opioids. That is the message from treatment specialists and professionals at all levels. The oldest person to die of an overdose in Luzerne County in 2017 was Paul Sorokas,...
Following alternating bouts with drug abuse and recovery, Eric Bowman’s relapse in March 2017 killed him, but brought new life to someone he never met. After the Hunlock Creek man died of a heroin overdose, one of his kidneys was transplanted in a dying...
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. The Gift of Life Donor Program — which organizes all...
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.