WILKES-BARRE — Caught in a torrential rainstorm on Memorial Highway in the Back Mountain one recent Saturday, with thunder crashing and lightning flashing all around him, Michael Donahue couldn’t help but compare the feeling to drug or alcohol addiction.
Although the weather event was frightening and seemed like it might last forever, he had every confidence it would subside and that the sun would shine again.
Slowing down, focusing his attention on the road ahead of him, keeping cognizant of other vehicles and possible dangers, Donahue successfully navigated the roadway and completed his journey.
For addicts presented with the frustrations and challenges of a sober life, it can feel like a never-ending storm, said Donahue, division head for Luzerne County Human Services.
Having never had the experience of successfully navigating such challenges, they often think that their only option is to give up, to stop trying, to fail to move forward. Too often, and at an ever-increasing rate, remaining on the self-destructive path leads to an overdose death.
Donahue, who will be attending the fifth annual Overdose Awareness Day event sponsored by Carol Coolbaugh, hopes that as a society, we have expanded our toolbox in regard to successfully reducing overdose deaths and dealing with addiction in the long term.
The event will be held Aug. 28 at Kirby Park in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day, founded by the Salvation Army in 2001 to raise awareness about drug overdose and end the stigma attached to drug addiction.
An addict, if equipped with the tools of recovery, can indeed make it through difficult times, fueled by hope and the knowledge that success is possible, that there is sunshine after the storm, he said.
The latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
Donahue said the use of Naloxone, a reversal drug for those who have overdosed on opioids, when it is available to friends and families of addicts, can provide a second chance at life and recovery for thousands of addicts who are unnecessarily losing their lives to overdose.
Donahue is aware that some people ask why someone who has willingly overdosed on heroin should be brought back to life, when it seems likely when they will use the drug again.
“When someone has overdosed and is in danger of dying, that’s not the time to judge,” said Donahue. “That’s a chance to bring the person back around and offer them a program of detoxification and rehabilitation.”
Having lost her son, Erik, to an overdose in 2009, she is aware of the effects of an fatal overdose not only on the victim, but on their family and friends.
Coolbaugh chooses to remember the good times, when Erik helped her plant flowers in the garden or helped her around the house.
An organizer of an area Grief Recovery After a Substance-Abuse Passing (GRASP) group, Coolbaugh organizes the overdose awareness event to bring people together for support and for dialogue.
Her speakers have included District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who bravely shares her story of a sister lost to addiction and encourages rehabilitation.
Salavantis, however, is only one of hundreds of attendees who carefully write the name of their loved one on a balloon and release it to the sky, as a tribute to someone who, despite having lost their life to addiction, had value, was loved by their families and made attempts to become free from a disease that diminished them.
Both Donahue and Coolbaugh have hope that perhaps next year, a decreasing amount of balloons will be added to those that rise to the sky every August. They hope that through education and understanding, those struggling with addiction will be able to begin to recover and go on to live full, happy lives.
Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons.