WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — August 31 is National Overdose Awareness Day and Healthbeat Reporter, Mark Hiller, spoke with two members of the community who grieve the loss of their loved ones.
Drug overdoses take a terrible toll across the country and around the world.
Despite steps to address the addiction crisis, many families are devastated by fatal overdoses. To help put it in perspective, Pennsylvania alone lost 5,331 lives in 2021 due to drug overdoses.
A couple of local groups are aiming to make a difference to help distraught families cope and raise awareness at the same time.
In a sea of faces on two signs outside the Luzerne County Courthouse is Erik Coolbaugh’s photo.
“My son struggled with addiction since he was 12. He had an 18 year battle. He passed away at 29,” said Carol Coolbaugh, a mother who lost her son to drug overdose.
Since his death in 2009, the lives lost to drug overdoses keep mounting. Katrina Gentner’s 42-year-old brother lost his battle with addiction in January.
“There were a lot of happy, healthy days. Yeah, yeah. He was a really good person and he had a lot to live for,” said Gentner.
It’s that sentiment that drives both Gentner and Coolbaugh to help others.
They both participated the last weekend of August in an overdose awareness event at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre.
Their aim is to help those struggling with the sorrow of loved ones lost to drug overdose, and others still fighting addiction.
Coolbaugh facilitates the local chapter of GRASP which stands for ‘Grief Recovery After Substance Passing’. Gentner helped start a grassroots effort called ‘Our Brother’s Keepers Foundation’.
“We are trying to support as many causes as we can that involve addiction and alcoholism,” Gentner explained.
“A necessity. The professionals can’t do it alone,” Prevention Education Specialist of Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services, Stefanie Wolownik stated.
While local support groups like the ones Gentner and Coolbaugh spearhead do not provide treatment or trained counseling, they do help battle another serious problem: stigma surrounding substance use disorder.
“It’s the only disease that I know that has horrific names for its patients. Drunks, alchies, druggies, junkies.” Wolownik reiterated.
They may not provide prevention but what Gentner and Coolbaugh do provide is hope, and help.
“The more we’re out there talking about it and bringing it out to the forefront, hopefully, this will end the stigma,” Coolbaugh emphasized.
GRASP and Our Brother’s Keepers Foundation hold meetings and various support activities.
Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services is available with professional resources to help those struggling with addiction.