PITTSTON — Residents packed the John P. Cosgrove Center in the Pittston Memorial Library Thursday evening eager to learn about the dangers of opioid addiction.
Not only did they learn about that, they also learned of the impact those drugs and other drugs have on families and loved ones through the stories told by those who’ve seen the horrors first hand.
An Opioid Fact Forum was sponsored by the Heritage Knights of Columbus President John F. Kennedy #372 Council #948 Assembly and the Jacquelines Auxiliary. It was the idea of Knights of Columbus member David Yonki.
“(The Knights) put me in charge of the family committee and that was the reason I decided to make it a little more relevant and bring these issues that we have in the 21st century to light,” Yonki said.
The forum consisted of a panel that included Luzerne County Coroner Bill Lisman, Luzerne County Court of Common Please Judge Michael Vough, and Advocate Carol Coolbaugh who shared their stories.
The panel was moderated by Carmen Ambrosino, a 45-year addiction specialist and former CEO of Wyoming Valley Drug and Alcohol Services.
“Dave Yonki asked if I would moderate it because of my years in the field,” Ambrosino said. “I brought in Bill Lisman and Carol, and I reached out to Mike Vough. And then I helped with a lot of the publicity and all, but Dave Yonki did the Herculean share of that.”
Lisman shared stories about his experience as a coroner and all the drug-related deaths he’s dealt with while Vough spoke about the people who have come in front of him in court for drug-related crimes.
Carol Coolbaugh, however, shared a more personal story as she spoke about how drug addiction took her son’s life in 2009.
She shared the story to keep his memory alive and to show the human nature of drug overdoses.
“I think your biggest fear is that the memory will be lost,” Coolbaugh said. “People won’t talk about them and they’ll forget about them. We did a lot of statistics tonight, and Eric (my son) was one of those statistics, but he was much more than that. He was my son. He was a father. He was a brother. He was a person.”
Coolbaugh has been sharing her son’s story since his passing and is also an advocate for GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing.)
Her mission is to help people turn their tragedies into positives, much like she is doing with her own tragedies.
“I spent so much energy trying to help my son that I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I was invited to speak at the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program right off the bat and it just made me feel good to share his story. Hopefully, his story will help someone.”
Because of the positive turnout, Yonki said the Knights of Columbus will look into continuing events similar to the Opioid Fact Forum.
“I think the turnout was outstanding,” he said. “I’m heartened by the turnout and I am thrilled by the turnout, mainly because of the fact that people in this community care, and people in this community are thirsting for more knowledge on, for better or for worse, what is an epidemic.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher