WILKES-BARRE — Stefanie Salavantis, who lost a sister to alcoholism, spoke on Saturday about the impact addiction has on families. She said it is important to separate the disease of addiction from the person suffering, never giving up hope of recovery.
Salavantis, Luzerne County’s district attorney, was attending the second annual Overdose Awareness Day observation at Kirby Park, not only in her official role, she said, but also as a family member wanting to make a difference in the community, to reach out to those suffering from addiction and their family members.
“I am one of you,” she said, “and you are not alone.”
Salavantis also noted the link between addiction and crime in our area. A focus on intervention and recovery benefits both the addict and the community in the long term, she said. She credited county specialty courts with providing intervention and treatment for those in the criminal justice system.
Carol Coolbaugh, coordinator of the event, told attendees the stigma attached to addiction is unnecessary and unproductive.
“Addiction is a disease in which family members often feel shame,” said Coolbaugh. “Gatherings such as this provide support for those still suffering and hope for the future.”
Coolbaugh’s efforts are in memory of her son Erik, who four years ago lost his battle with addiction.
Michael Donahue, former administrator of Luzerne County Alcohol and Drug Services, encouraged family members gathered to honor loved ones lost to addiction by reaching out to others.
Now a drug and alcohol consultant, Donahue recalled the loss of a member of his family, and said it increased his determination to educate and inform the community, to help addicts and their families understand that recovery is possible.
Attendee Dave Magdalinski, in recovery for more than 20 years, stressed the importance of structuring one’s life and of self-care to make long-term sobriety possible. He also emphasized the importance of family support and personal effort.
Darlene Magdalinski, community activist, addressed attendees, sharing a poem that reinforced willingness to sacrifice and purposeful gratitude in the lives of our young people. “We need to be as excited about other people’s success and recovery as we are our own,” she said. “We need to come together as a community.”
One highlight of the event was a balloon release, as the names of those who had lost their battles with addiction were read by family members. As the purple and white balloons ascended, many attendees took the opportunity to reflect on the lives of those lost, with both sadness and gratitude.
Locally, an organization known as GRASP, for Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, provides support to families. Overseen by Coolbaugh, the group meets twice a month and welcomes new members.
Information about the organization is available by calling 570-991-7199 or visiting its website: www.grasphelp.org.