WILKES-BARRE ‚?? Carol Coolbaugh, who lost her son to an overdose three years ago, believes that addiction to drugs and alcohol is not a moral weakness or a character defect, but a disease.
The disease, she said, steals time and energy, love and joy, and the very soul of its victims.
Friday night‚??s International Overdose Awareness Day observation at Kirby Park provided opportunity to share information about the addiction model as well as fellowship and support for those who have lost a loved one to the disease of addiction.
Coolbaugh looks back at her son‚??s life with both joy and sadness.
"I remember Erik‚??s joy at being able to earn money and buy things for his kids," Coolbaugh said. "He had a lot of hope and a lot of challenges."
Darlene Duggins-Magdalinski, a speaker at the event, said, ‚??One person can make a difference, and together we can change the world.‚?Ě
She emphasized a sense of responsibility to others in both families and communities. She also emphasized the importance of facing addiction honestly and bravely.
Michael Donahue, administrator of Luzerne County Alcohol and Drug Services, and Stefanie Salavantis, Luzerne County district attorney, both addressed attendees, acknowledging the continuing need for resources within the community to address addiction in the long term.
Salvation Army Lieutenants Ted and Sharon Tressler were on hand to share information and fellowship with families gathered.
‚??So many people are affected by addiction and many live with a great sense of shame and isolation, ‚?Ě said Ted Tressler. ‚??This type of event brings people together and helps people feel connected to others in similar situations.‚?Ě
The Salvation Army originated the event in 2001 to commemorate those the organization had served who had died from an overdose. The effort is now global.
The event concluded with a balloon release at dusk as names of those who had died from their addiction were read by family members. Many were visibly moved as the balloons ascended.
Locally, GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing) was created to provide local families with support and understanding. Headed by Coolbaugh, the group meets twice a month and always welcomes new members. Information on GRASP is available by calling Carol Coolbaugh at 570-991-7199 or visiting the group‚??s website www.grasphelp.org.