A Wilkes-Barre mother mourns the loss of son on Overdose Awareness Day


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY(WBRE/WYOU) — Tuesday is Overdose Awareness Day, and one local mother is coping with the loss of her son.

“My son started when he was maybe 12,” the victim’s mother, Carol Coolbaugh, said. Coolbaugh lost her son, Erik, to an overdose in 2009.

“I think you expect the call. I think any family that has someone who is struggling with substance abuse expects the call, but it’s still a shock when it comes,” Coolbaugh explains.

Erik died at 29 years old, leaving behind three children. His mother says she wouldn’t wish that suffering on anyone.

“Painful, very painful to watch somebody destroying themselves. Even if you try, and I tried everything, there’s nothing you can do, they have to want to get sober themselves,” Coolbaugh said.

“We recognize and are concerned over the number of overdoses happening in Luzerne County,” said Ryan Hogan, Drug and Alcohol Administrator for Wyoming and Luzerne Counties.

Hogan says the number of overdoses in Luzerne County is higher than it’s been in several years, with around 120 confirmed so far in 2021. The county is projected to see near 200 by the end of the year.

“We’re seeing in the pandemic, many people aren’t accessing resources they need, including emergency medical services because they’re fearful of what they will face in the pandemic if they go to the hospital or call an ambulance,” says Hogan.

The county is working with a more than $4 million budget to prevent and treat opioid use in the community. They formed the STOP Coalition, are making strides to get emergency overdose treatments like Narcan out into the community. As well as, dispersing Deterra Drug Disposal Systems.

“They can use these pouches to simply dissolve the medication and it’s eco-friendly, so you can just throw it in the garbage,” Hogan said.

If you need help, the county has plenty of resources available. But, if you’re looking to help someone else, Carol says, love goes a long way.

“I remember saying at his funeral, there were so many people there. If he could only see this and know how many people really cared about him,” said Coolbaugh.

Residents can reach out to the Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Drug & Alcohol Programs office at 570-826-3035.

Hogan, of Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Drug and Alcohol Program provided information on local funding to fight the opioid crisis:

Drug & Alcohol Department Budget: $4,229,658 (+/-) – Totals can change depending on other grant allocations we may receive, including additional State-Opioid Response Dollars (SOR Dollars)

PA State General Assistance: $1,036,587.00

Substance Abuse Prevention & Treatment Funds (SAPT Block Grant Funds)

SAPT Prevention/Education: $256,326.00

SAPT Alcohol Intervention & Treatment: $262,722.00

SAPT Drug Intervention & Treatment: $503,015.00

State Opioid-Response Funding

SOR Prevention: $24,769.00

SOR Treatment & Treatment-Related Services: $1,691,626.00

Additional Department of Drug & Alcohol Funds

Assessment & residential Treatment Dollars: $108,345.00

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