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I’ve seen the needle

And the damage done

a little part of it in everyone

But every junkie’s

like a setting sun

That’s the last verse of one of my most favorite and most unfavorite songs: “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young. I love how it sounds. I hate what it says.

And while it is unfair to call someone battling drug addiction a “junkie,” and incorrect to assume all overdose deaths involve a needle, the song comes to mind every time I read something in the newspaper or hear something on TV about the opioid crisis in America, and more specifically here in Luzerne County.

The heartache that, yes, a loved one hooked on drugs is a lot “like a setting sun” is almost too much to bear.

And the notion that there’s “a little part of it in everyone” drives home the frightening truth that drug addiction can overtake anyone. You, me, our kids, our siblings, our friends. No one sets out to be a drug addict. As crazy as it sounds, it sort of just happens.

That’s part of a message West Pittston’s Carol Coolbaugh has attempted to bring to the public since her son, Erik, died of an overdose in 2009, after, according to a Citizens’ Voice article in August of 2017, “a lifetime battle with street drugs, like heroin.”

“Good people fall victim to this disease which they had no control over,” Coolbaugh is quoted as saying by writer Eric Mark in that article.

The organizer of the group GRASP, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, Coolbaugh will be one of the speakers Thursday evening, April 19, at the John P. Cosgrove Center at Pittston Memorial Library, when the Family Committee of the JFK Council of the Knights of Columbus, Pittston, presents an “Opioid Fact Forum.”

All interested are invited to hear Coolbaugh share her and her son’s story and the pain of losing a loved one to drug abuse, to hear Judge Michael Vough, Pittston, talk about the legal ramifications of drug abuse, and to hear County Coroner Bill Lisman relate the sobering statistics of drug-related deaths in Luzerne County. Carmen Ambrosino, a leading figure in the battle against drug and alcohol abuse for 45 years, will serve as moderator.

The forum runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and admission is free. The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress are media sponsors.

In a January 2018, article in the Citizens’ Voice, writers Bob Kalinowski and Bill Wellock, reveal Lisman’s statistics from the past two years: 153 overdose deaths in 2017 in Luzerne County; 140 in 2016. In another article, Kalinowski points out the oldest victim was 78, the youngest 18.

Approximately half of the deaths were related to opioids, with fentanyl, called “the most powerful synthetic opioid,” listed as the “most common killer.” Lisman, according to the report, said most victims had other drugs in their systems in addition to opioids. The “most common combination,” appearing in 69 of the deaths, was fentanyl and “other drugs.” Heroin and “other drugs” accounted for 40 of the deaths.

David Yonki, Pittston native and a Fourth Degree member of the JFK Council, proposed the forum to his fellow Knights and was met with overwhelming support. “The idea actually came to me in church,” Yonki said. “I began thinking that the answer to the opioid problem might lie in faith and in communication. Families that communicate, that talk to one another, might have a better chance of avoiding this problem.”

He added that there is a misconception when someone dies of an overdose that it was “on purpose.” That is not typically the case, he said.

Yonki said the presentation by Judge Vough will be “very compelling.” He said Vough will take the audience through a day in his courtroom, “how he talks to, how he sentences” someone convicted of a drug-related crime.

The whole night will be “very impactful,” Yonki said.

I don’t doubt it.

Another verse in that Neil Young song goes like this:

I hit the city and

I lost my band

I watched the needle

Take another man

Gone, gone, the damage done.

Those two words “gone, gone” make me want to cry.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.