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County’s opioid epidemic has shown conclusively that it can happen to anyone

H

BY BOB KALINOWSKI Staff Writer

eather Hoffmaster had two kids, a steady waitressing job, her own apartment and a close-knit family that supported her. She also had a drug problem that began with painkiller prescriptions after she was mauled by a pit bull and ended with a lethal injection of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in a sober-living home in WilONLINE kes-Barre. find more stories, “Some people have resources, video, such an ignorance and interactive features, blindness and think it a podcast and comdoesn’t happen to good ments from our readfamilies, it doesn’t happen ers at citizensvoiceto good kids. It certainly blogs.com/opioid/. doesn’t happen to their child. These aren’t people who are just junkies,” Hoffmaster’s mother, Amanda Hoffmaster of Shavertown, said. “They are family members. They are loved. They are people who were giving back to the community. They were working. They were paying taxes. Some people get their tooth pulled and end up addicted.” Please see HOFFMASTER, Page A10

Warren ruda / Staff PhotograPher

Top: Amanda Hoffmaster of Shavertown holds a photo of her daughter, Heather, who died of a drug overdose in January 2017. Above: Megan Hoffmaster, left, and her mother, Amanda, discuss Heather’s death.

LOST BUT

LOVED

Life stories from a drug crisis Part 1 of a series

HOW WE DID IT

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

Memorial service honors police retirees, fallen

Ceremony comes during National Police Week.

BY DENISE ALLABAUGH Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE — Members of the WilkesBarre Police Department Retirees Association gathered in the rain Saturday m o r n i n g t o re m e m b e r retired police officers who recently died and officers killed in the line of duty. They participated in a memorial service in front of police headquarters during the last day of National Police Week, a week when thousands of police officers, their families and friends gather across the country to hon-

deniSe aLLabaugh / Staff Photo

Retired patrol officer Bob Ripski, left, and retired police Capt. Tom Merlie place a memorial wreath in front of Wilkes-Barre Police Headquarters on Saturday. or and recognize fallen assistant police chief who police officers. retired in 1995 and secreHarold Cawley, a former tary of the Wilkes-Barre

Police Department Retirees Association, paid tribute to retired officers who recently died, including Lt. William Everett, Patrolman Anthony Elias and Detective William Davis. Members of the Retirees Association hold the ceremony every year “so the people who have served are never forgotten,” Cawley said. Retired Wilkes-Bar re Police Capt. Tom Merlie and retired patrol officer Bob Ripski laid a memorial wreath in front of police headquarters and Thomas and Michael Malloy of Wilkes-Barre played bagpipes during the ceremony.

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A10] | 05/19/18

21:23 | DONLINKEVI

LOST BUT LOVED

A10 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

Oversight coming for sober houses

Search for pain relief brings more pain

By BOB KALINOwSKI STaff WrITer

Gail Davis, cut off from painkillers for back pain, sought relief elsewhere. By BOB KALINOwSKI STaff WrITer

Gail Davis died searching for relief from her back pain, her brother believes. After prescribing powerful painkillers for a decade, the WilkesBarre woman’s doctors abruptly cut her off from DAVIS the medication, Donald Grosz said. “At the 10-year mark, they decided to stop it,” Grosz said. “They completely took her off.” Still dependent and still in pain, Grosz was advised to try a methadone clinic after pain management facilities said they couldn’t help, her brother said. That’s where she met the person who gave her the drugs that killed her on Jan. 15, 2017, Grosz said. Davis was 40 and a married mother of three. “That got her mixed up with actual addicts. Taking people who need pain management and sending them to an addiction clinic is counterproductive,” Grosz said. “You are exposing them to people that have a completely different addiction. Now you are becoming friends with hard-core addicts — the people you see committing break-ins at homes.” Several medical professionals and rehabilitation experts said doctors would rarely abruptly cut off a person from opioids, preferring to wean them off over a period of time, unless a person tested positive for other controlled substances, running the risk of an overdose from mixing both drugs. Grosz and Davis grew up in public housing in WilkesB a r r e. T h e i r p a r e n t s preached an anti-drug message. “We heard from a young age, ‘Don’t do drugs,’” he said. Both siblings heeded the warning for the most part, though Grosz admits he experimented a little bit. Both later joined the Army. Davis got raped on her base and later was allowed to be discharged because of the sexual assault, Grosz said. Afterward, she worked some odd jobs, but developed degenerative disc disease — making her eligible for disability, he said. Suffering from bad back pain, she was prescribed Vicodin and then Percocet. Later, doctors increased the potency of her treatment, prescribing morphine and fentanyl patches, Grosz said. That went on for a decade. During that time, it was Grosz who would be the first to try illicit street drugs. Please see DAVIS, Page A11

WarreN ruDa / STaff pHoTograpHer

Amanda Hoffmaster has become active in local addiction recovery groups since her daughter Heather’s fatal overdose. Below: Heather Hoffmaster poses with her children, Amari, left, and Josh, in a family photo.

HOFFMASTER: Injuries from dog attack started slide to addiction from page a1

After a several years off struggle, Heather, 24, suc-cumbed to her addiction on n Jan. 10, 2017, overdosing att an apar tment on Eastt Northampton Street, wheree she was living discreetly y with other addicts trying to o stay clean. She had moved in n just days earlier. “It pretty much was jail,, rehab and a week or two off clean time,” Amanda said off her daughter’s battle with h drugs. “And the cycle repeat-ed.”

Downward spiral Heather’s family dates her slide into addiction to an attack years ago by a pit bull, which ripped out a chunk of her left calf muscle. The attack triggered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and introduced the Hazleton native to powerful opioids, Amanda said. Following reconstructive surgery on Heather’s leg, doctors prescribed morphine and later Percocet to alleviate the pain. Heather didn’t realize the power of the pills she was taking, Amanda said. One day she asked, “Mom, what is morphine?” “She thought it was strong Ibuprofen.” When it was time to come off the prescription drugs, she couldn’ t. She was hooked. Heather started using street drugs, including heroin, and became a totally different person, her family said. Multiple stints in rehab didn’t work. “The pit bull attack spiraled all that,” Amanda said. Amanda said Heather’s heroin dealer, a romantic partner and former juvenile offender, won a huge settlement in the Luzerne County kids-for-cash scandal in which judges took kickbacks for jailing juveniles in for-profit prisons. He used the money to bankroll his drug-dealing enterprise, Amanda said. “Because of that, she was able to get all the heroin she could ever want.” Heather’s sister, Megan, moved in with her to try to help her quit. The opposite occurred. Heather convinced Megan to try heroin. “I got sucked into it. I

didn’t know how addicting it was,” Megan, 27, said. The sisters ended up going to drug rehabilitation together. It worked for Megan. As her mother put it, Megan was able “to cut off the people, places and things” associated with the drug world. Heather could not. Heather died less than a month after completing a seven-month prison sentence for a break-in. She left behind two sons, Amari, now 3, and Josh, now 10. Several years before her death, Josh was placed in the custody of his father. Custody of Amari was given to his father after birth because Heather tested positive for heroin. In one of Heather’s final social media posts, six days before she died, she addressed her struggles by sharing a post from the group “Grateful Addicts in Recovery.” “My goal in 2017 is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than I used to be,” the post said.

Overdose at a sober home

A gallon jug of “clean u urine” was found under Heather’s bed at the sober-livH iing house where she overdosed, Amanda said. d “She was only in there a ffew days,” Amanda said. “By tthe time I got there to pick up her stuff, most of it was stoh llen already.” On the day she overdosed, Heather got the urge to shoot H drugs just minutes after a d group meeting at the home. g Whether knowingly or not, W sshe injected pure fentanyl, tthe ultra-lethal synthetic opioid that is much stronger o than heroin, her mother said. By the time Heather’s body was found the evening of Jan. 9, 2017, she was brain dead. She was taken to a hospital, where she died the next day. Amanda always knew her daughter’s death was possible, but said there was no way to prepare for the grief of losing a child to drugs. “I was blind-sided when she did die,” Amanda said.

From grief to activism With the family’s permission, Heather’s photo was included in the August 2017 edition of People magazine’s “Faces of Heroin” project. Amanda said she became active in local addiction recovery groups since her daughter’s fatal overdose. She wants to spread awareness that no family is immune to the crisis. Heather came from a good, loving family who supported her, said Amanda, a mentalhealth social worker whose boyfriend owns a roofing company. Heather’s father, Michael, of Drums, works at Tobyhanna Army Depot. Heather’s death prompted Amanda to open a Facebook account, which she uses to share photos of Heather and information about heroin and overdoses. “I think people need to know what happened,” Amanda said. Devastated by her daughter’s death, Amanda feels activism is her best way to cope. “I never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t even know what heroin was. I didn’t know how it was used or what it could do,” she said. “I lived heroin for so long. It became my whole life.”

Fo r y e a r s , H e a t h e r bounced around from friends’ houses to rehab to sober-living homes to jail. Still, Amanda always hoped, prayed and believed Heather would get clean one day for good. Heather submitted to drug tests when she was in certain court-ordered programs, but Amanda soon found out selling “clean urine” to addicts was common in the drug world. “She’d show me the negative drug tests, which I knew Contact the writer: weren’t really negative,” bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal Amanda said.

For many, addiction starts with legal prescriptions By BOB KALINOwSKI STaff WrITer

A significant number of people who overdose on drugs start their addiction with legal prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Oftentimes, the refill is what gets them hooked and craving more, experts say. “First exposure is when the risk of addiction starts. But the second prescription, or the refill, is when the risk goes up tenfold,” said Mike Evans, chief pharmacy officer for Geisinger Health System. Over the past few years, Geisinger has worked to cut opioid prescriptions in half

SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018

by finding alternative means to treat pain. In some cases, Geisinger researchers determined painkillers make pain worse because they create more pain receptors. “There is a facade that if a physician is prescribing a medication, it must be safe. Opioids are not safe. They are very potent and they are not the most efficacious for most pain,” Evans said. For instance, most people who had a tooth pulled in the past likely received a prescription for an opioid, like Vicodin, while an over-the counter acetaminophen medication, like Tylenol, could be

just as or more effective, Evans said. Geisinger’s research also determined physical therapy proved more effective than medication for patients with lower back pain, a common ailment traditionally treated with painkillers. Some people who become addicts transition from legal prescription opioids to illicit street drugs like heroin. Doctors who prescribe opioids are always on alert for this, Evans said. Patients who are prescribed opioids submit to urine testing at unscheduled times, Evans said. If other con-

Addicts seeking drugand-alcohol-free housing upon leaving highly structured rehabilitation centers often face increased temptation and relapse when moving into unregulated “sober houses” being established across the state in response to the opioid crisis. Cur rently, anyone in Pennsylvania could claim to host a sober-living home without any experience or oversight as long as it complies with local rental regulations. That will soon change. A new state law that takes ef fect in June requires drug and alcohol recovery houses — where addicts commonly cohabitate to offer each other support — be certified and licensed by the state if they receive any gover nment funding or referrals. The licensed homes also must operate under a long list of rules and have written policies in place. State officials estimate at least 500 sober-living homes are currently operating, but only about 65 receive government funding. “They are marketing themselves as places for people living in recovery, but they have no oversight. They are only subject to local zoning laws,” said Ali Fogarty, communications director for the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which will oversee the recovery homes. “If we could certify them, we can hold them to a higher standard to make sure it’s safe and healthy.” Sober homes will have a grace period to comply with the new law. All rules and regulations much be in place by June 2020, Fogarty said. However, she conceded what zoning officials have already pointed out: despite the legislation, unregulated homes likely will continue to operate if they don’t take government money because a landlord is free to rent to whomever he or she wants.

HEATHER HOFFMASTER

made frantic calls to Heather’s friends trying to determine her location, they said. “When Heather overdosed, the cops and ambulance couldn’t even find it until we got the address from a friend that dropped her off there once,” her sister, Megan, said. An Internet search for the name of the sober house on East Northampton Street in Wilkes-Barre provided no results and that’s intentional, Megan said. “They just don’t have it searchable on the Internet. Heather found out about it through a friend who ran another sober house,” she said. On Dec. 28, 2016, Heather asked friends on her Facebook page to suggest sober houses in Wilkes-Barre. A friend posted a few suggestions, including the place where she overdosed 12 days later. By the time she was found, Heather was brain dead. She died the next day in a local hospital. It’s unclear what rules, if any, were in place at the home. A woman who answered the door recently at the home said she leased the property and confirmed it was a sober house. She said she might consider doing an interview, but did not contact the newspaper before publication of this story. A Florida woman who is listed as an owner of the property denied having a connection to a sober house. “I do not own a sober house and I do not live in Sober house operates Pa.,” she wrote in response discreetly to a message sent to her Hazleton native Heather online. Hoffmaster, 24, died last Zoning official: we year after overdosing on the can’t discriminate synthetic opioid fentanyl at Those who run sober housa sober house in Wilkeses advertise them in online Barre. Her family knew nothing classified listings, such as Craigslist. about the place. One local post reaches out When an ex-boyfriend got concer ned Heather was to the “many countless peooverdosing during a video ple who struggle with addicphone call, he had no idea tion on a regular basis.” where to send emergency Please see SOBER, Page A11 crews or her family, who

NEED HELP? IN A CRISIS Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-8291341 or visit www.helplinenepa.info. The state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” The phone number is 1-800662-4357 (HeLp).

County assistance

Medication-based treatment clinics There are facilities in the area where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy after trying inpatient drug rehabilitation. medication-assisted Treatment addiction Clinic geisinger South WilkesBarre 25 Church St. Wilkes-Barre, pa 18701 570-808-3700 (Buprenorphine/Suboxone or naltrexone/Vivitrol)

The Luzerne County Drug and alcohol program can be trolled substances are detect- reached at 570-826-8790. ed, no opioids are prescribed, Centers he said. of excellence “We actually would be putminers medical The pennsylvania Departting that person at risk of 43 S. main St. ment of Health has recomoverdosing,” Evans said. ashley, pa 18706 In 2016, Geisinger launched mended facilities around the opens: 5:30 a.m. its #HadEnough campaign to state that are “ahead-of-the570-822-5145 spotlight the overuse and curve when it comes to sub(methadone) abuse of opioids, which is stance use disorder treatment.” CHoICeS fueling a nationwide overdose Two in Luzerne County are: rear 307 Laird St. crisis. The health care providClean Slate plains Twp., pa 18702 er says it is continually look189 e. market St. opens: 6:15 a.m. ing for alternatives. Wilkes-Barre, pa 18702 570-408-9320 “Years ago, the way we 570-846-2720 (methadone) faced pain management was far different,” Evans said. miners medical for more treatment Contact the writer: 43 S. main St. options, go to citizensvoicebkalinowski@citizensvoice.com ashley, pa 18706 blogs.com/opioid. 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal 570-822-5145


WB_VOICE/PAGES [A11] | 05/19/18

22:14 | DONLINKEVI

LoCaL / state

SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018

THE CITIZENS' VOICE A11

aroUND tHe state PottsVILLe

ex-police chief spared jail time A former small-town Pennsylvania police chief who stepped down following profanity-laced online tirades about the Second Amendment and liberals has been spared jail time on firearms purchase convictions. The (Pottsville) Republican Herald reports that 46-yearold former Gilberton chief Mark Kessler was ordered Thursday to spend two years on probation. Jurors convicted the Frackville resident in April of making a false statement on a firearms application and unsworn falsification. State police said he falsely stated in May 2016 that he wasn’t charged with an offense carrying a one-year jail term even though he faced a terroristic threat charge. He said he erred on the form and his attorney vowed an appeal. Kessler was suspended after gaining notoriety for posting videos of himself shooting borough-owned automatic weapons and cursing liberals and others.

MoNesseN

Mother faces trial in daughter’s death

Gail Davis stands with her brother, Donald Grosz, after she completed Army basic training.

A western Pennsylvania mother has been ordered to trial in the death of one of her twin daughters who authorities allege was given a SuBmITTeD pHoTo fatal dose of allergy medicine. The (Uniontown) HeraldStandard reports that a district judge ruled Friday that there was enough evidence for 30-year-old Ashley Gallatin to be tried in Westmoreland County Court on involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges. Police say 16-month-old Emily was found unresponsive Dec. 2 at Gallatin’s home. Gallatin said she gave the child what she believed to be Tylenol but a toxicology report indicated death was due to an antihistamine ingredient. Defense attorney Michael Garofalo asked whether a Miranda warning was issued at the scene and tHe Lost: JaNUarY 2017 was told that Gallatin wasn’t fifteen people died of drug in police custody then. overdoses in Luzerne County UNIoNtowN in January 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. Man sentenced in The Citizens’ Voice is naming fatal police chase only those whose families A man has been sentenced agreed to be interviewed. to 33 months to 63 months in ■ Jan. 1: male, 24, from prison in a western PennsylHazleton area. vania police chase in which a ■ Jan. 2: male, 32, from Wilkes-Barre area. woman was killed. ■ Jan. 4: male, 31, from The (Uniontown) Heraldmountain Top. Standard reports that 26-year■ Jan. 5: male, 32, from old Jonathan Switch was senpittston area. tenced Friday on earlier pleas ■ Jan. 8: female, 44, from to vehicular homicide, aggraWilkes-Barre/plains Twp. area. vated assault and fleeing or ■ Jan. 10: Heather Hoffmas- attempting to elude police. ter, 24, from Back mountaIn. Switch read a statement ■ Jan. 12: male 55, from saying “The decisions I made Wilkes-Barre area. that day, I will never be able to ■ Jan. 13: male, 36, from Wilkes-Barre/plains Twp. area. do anything to take it back.” Authorities in Fayette ■ Jan. 15: gail Davis, 40, County said he fled an Octofrom Wilkes-Barre. ber 2015 traffic stop, swerving ■ Jan. 15, male, 38, from Wilkes-Barre, plains Twp. area. around a car that was hit by a pursuing trooper’s vehicle, ■ Jan. 25: male, 50, from killing 66-year-old Bendetta Hazleton area. ■ Jan. 25: female, 18, from Miller. Defense attorney Jack Wilkes-Barre, plains Twp. area. Connor acknowledged that ■ Jan. 29: male, 24, from his client was legally responHazleton area. sible but said he didn’t know ■ Jan. 31: male, 46, from the accident had occurred the West Side. until he was arrested later in ■ Jan. 31: female, 52, from the day. the West Side.

DaVIs: Pain management clinics couldn’t help from page a10

sionally drive Davis to the clinic and found out some drug dealers were targeting those seeking to stay clean. “You see drug deals in the parking lot,” Grosz said. “People are asking for rides to take them to their dealers right after getting their treatment.” In the months before her death, Davis and her husband were taking care of her ill mother at their WilkesBarre home. Davis was thought to be doing well. Then one day Grosz got a phone call from Davis’ husband, saying “She’s dead. She’s gone.” He assumed it was his mother. “No, your sister,” Davis’ husband said. Family looked through Davis’ text messages and discovered she had been trading prescriptions, including Klonopin, with another man for drugs. Davis was taking Klonopin — a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, panic attacks and seizures — as a replacement for methadone, which was causing her severe heart problems, Grosz said. Davis’ family believes she took a large dose of methadone, which is an opioid, like heroin, and it proved to be a fatal when mixed with Klonopin. Grosz said his sister’s death should prove a lesson to others. “It doesn’t take long to go down the wrong road,” he said.

Dealing with severe back pain years ago, Grosz took up his best friend’s offer to inject heroin to numb the pain. “I never shot heroin before. Well, it killed me. The one time I injected heroin, I woke up in the hospital the next day,” Grosz, 39, recalled. After Grosz overdosed, he learned medics used the opioid-reversal drug naloxone to revive him and give him a second chance at life. The local mechanic has been drug-free since. “From that point on, I refused everything. I haven’t touched anything since,” the Plains Twp. man said. After the near-death experience, Grosz got a tonguelashing from his sister. “She said, ‘You’re the dumbest son of a bitch on earth,’” Grosz recalled, describing how adamant she was against illegal drug use at one time. That best friend who once gave Grosz heroin also died of a drug overdose last year, several months after Davis. When her prescriptions were cut off, Davis was advised she needed to go to a pain management clinic, but every one she tried said they couldn’t help her, Grosz said. Davis was then advised to go to a methadone clinic, a facility where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy. With no openings at local clinics, Davis traveled to Allentown every day for six months. Eventually, she was able to start going to a Contact the writer: clinic in Plains Twp., he said. bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com Grosz said he would occa- 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

sober: In W-B, no discrimination permitted from page a10

Housing a small number of recovering addicts is the same as renting to anyone else — whether it be college students, members of religious sects or those with mental illness — and the city can’t discriminate as long as all rental regulations are met, he said. The city’s zoning law merely prohibits more than four unrelated people from living in an apartment, he noted. “In my opinion, we can’t discriminate against alcoholics or those recovering from drug addiction,” Harris said. “It’s four people living under one roof.”

“We are here to offer our support to those who want to face addiction and begin working toward their goals for recovery in earnest,” says one local advertisement. “When you are prepared to accept the invaluable assistance you need to achieve your goals for recovery, you deserve the assistance we can provide. Reach out and contact our friendly experts today, and you can start treatment without any delay. No pets, drugs, or alcohol.” Rent is $333 a month, the post said. Wilkes-Barre Zoning Officer William Harris said the Contact the writer: city’s zoning law doesn’t bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com address sober living houses. 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

sober-LIVING HoMes: sooN to be reGULateD gov. Tom Wolf in December signed a law that aims to regulate sober-living homes. The law, which takes effect in June, requires drug and alcohol recovery houses that receive any government funding to be certified and licensed by the state. some rules are: ■ all referrals from state agencies and state-funded facilities must be to centers licensed and certified by the state. ■ only licensed centers will be eligible for government funding. ■ a state or county court must give first consideration to state-certified centers when referring someone to a recovery house. Certified drug and alcohol recovery houses must: ■ Inform residents of house rules, residency requirements and lease agreements. ■ Have policies for management of all funds received from or managed on behalf

of residents. ■ Have policies for criminal background checks for operators and employees. ■ prohibit owner or employees from soliciting or accepting anything of value for referrals. ■ Have policies that require residents to participate in treatment and self-help groups. ■ require residents to abstain from drugs and alcohol. ■ Have rules on appropriate use and security of medication. ■ Have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, and be in compliance with fire codes. ■ Not force residents to relinquish or sign over public assistance. ■ Have policies for dealing with complaints. ■ Have requirements for notifying family members of emergencies, including overdoses.

LaNCaster

$4M awarded in infant’s death A Pennsylvania mother who sued doctors and a medical practice over the 2010 death of her 2-month-old daughter has been awarded $4 million in damages. Michelle Goldstein’s 32-dayold baby died of complications from pertussis, also known as whooping cough. The civil lawsuit filed in March 2016 claimed Lancaster Pediatric Associates should have diagnosed and treated it earlier because the baby’s mother described having symptoms of the disease herself and asked that the baby be tested. The jury this week found the practice and two physicians liable for two visits when the baby started to show symptoms of pertussis. — AssociAted Press


WB_VOICE/PAGES [A13] | 05/19/18

17:36 | GAYDOSKRIS

tHE CItIzEns’ VOICE

Editorial SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018

A13

our opinion

Telling stories of loss and love

O

n today’s front page we launch “Lost but Loved,” a series of stories profiling some of the 151 people who died from drug overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017. That annual toll represents a 170 percent increase over 2010. Every Sunday in the coming weeks, you’ll meet a true cross-section of county residents, men and women, young and old, from all walks of life. Some slid quickly into addiction via pain killer prescriptions. Others died after spending years battling for sobriety. All left behind family and friends who mourn and mull over the past, wondering what could have been different. Our goals in pursuing this series, which required months of work from our newsroom staff, We hope this are threefold: Number one: To examseries helps ine the issues raised by foster our region’s overdose epicommunity d e m i c : D o we h ave enough mental health awareness, that might help some dialogue and a care avoid substance abuse? commitment to Do we have the right treatment options to finding break the addiction cycle? solutions. How do we help the growing number of children trying to cope with the loss of a parent? Number two: To clear some of the stigma surrounding this issue by telling the life stories of those who have died through the eyes of survivors, many of whom were eager to share not only their sense of loss, but their abiding love for their spouses, children and siblings. And number three: To help families or those trapped in addiction to recognize themselves in some of these stories and perhaps achieve better outcomes. Our project includes an extensive web site — citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/ — where you’ll find each story as it publishes, plus videos, interactive features, an extensive list of resources for those seeking help and a section for reader feedback. We hope this series helps foster community awareness, dialogue and a commitment to finding solutions. All three will be essential to slowing the rising death toll afflicting our region.

Cheers Jeers

The winners and losers from this week’s news, as selected by the editors of The Citizens’ Voice.

:) :( :) :(

CHEERS to the more than 900 volunteers from 70 businesses and organizations who participated in the United Way of Wyoming Valley’s annual Day of Caring, donating their time to perform good works at 62 locations around our region. JEERS to the extremely low voter turnout in last week’s primary — just over 16 percent in Luzerne County. Maybe the relative lack of competitive races contributed to that low number, but let’s hope for more public participation in November. CHEERS to all the volunteers and vendors who have helped make the Fine Arts Fiesta downtown Wilkes-Barre’s premier arts event for 63 years. There’s still time to join in the fun on Public Square. The Fiesta concludes today at 5 p.m. Admission is free. JEERS to drivers who still haven’t gotten the message on seat belt and child safety seat requirements. More than 400 people who weren’t buckled up died in Pennsylvania in 2016 and local police will be on the lookout for violators over the next three weeks as part of a statewide initiative.

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your opinion $5 vehicle fee better than alternative

that voted against the new $5 fee can now work for the voters to be assured that all proEditor: The Luzerne Coun- c e e d s g o t ow a rd ro a d ty Council passed the $5 addi- improvements as promised tional registration fee for and only their intended use. road improvements. Well, if John J. Bryan the fee is actually used for Wilkes-Barre TWp. the intended purpose I will go along with it and PennDOT has promised their $5 fee: how else share. I’d rather pay an addi- will roads get fixed? tional fee each year of $5 Editor: This letter is then spend hundreds in pur- addressed to the members of chase of new tires because of the Luzerne County Council potholes, etc. who voted against the $5 tax This is a pretty good on vehicles that would be investment when used wise- used to repair Luzerne Counly. But we need to hold coun- ty’s deteriorating roads and ty council accountable that bridges. this is what and only what What is your solution to the additional fee is for. A fix Luzerne County’s deteriospecial audit of these funds rating roads and bridges? needs to be put into place for daniel savitsky all to see. Let’s see who votes Wyoming for this audit. A non-vote be aware, very aware. chs putting profits I know some on council over patients agreed for passage of the fee and others have not. I also Editor: The nursing staff understand their concerns. at both Moses Taylor and However, roads are in very, First Hospital recently very poor condition. Those engaged in a one-day strike.

The for-profit corporation that owns both of these hospitals responded to this strike by picking and choosing who they wanted to lock out for an additional four days. It was clear to the employees of these facilities that this was a blatant act of retaliation. During this process nurses who “participated” in the strike were locked out, while those who were not scheduled to work the day of the strike were not. Commonwealth Health System (CHS) justified this decision by stating that those scheduled the day of the strike needed to be replaced by nurses who required a five-day contract. The excuse they provided is flawed. If the hospital was safely staffed during the strike no nurse should have had to report to work until all of their coworkers where welcomed back. The same contracted nurses who staffed the hospital for a 24-hour period, without nurses who didn’t want to cross

the picket line, should be able to continue to staff the hospital for the remaining days the nurses are locked out. The hospitals’ official statement was vague and misleading. The reason staff decided to strike was because CHS would not meet important requests during contract negotiations, specifically mandating, pulling, safe staffing, and pay. Low staffing, mandation, and pulling staff to specialty areas they are not prepared to work in is dangerous. This type of environment is rife with medical errors. The strike was meant to bring awareness to the community that we serve. You have as much of an interest in our patients’ safety as we do. Those running this corporation are not from our community. They don’t care about our patients. If they did they would consider the nurses’ requests. Kathleen Bungo piTTsTon

How to keep the squeeze on N. Korea The Trump administration says that if the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea fails or doesn’t happen at all, the United States and its allies can go right back to the “maximum pressure” campaign that brought Kim Jong Un to the table in the first place. In reality, doing that would be difficult if not impossible. The pressure is already diminishing. The administration’s claim that it can immediately tur n on the pressure again is crucial to its effort to play it cool ahead of the Trump-Kim summit. President Donald Trump often says that if Kim doesn’t want to strike a good deal, he will simply walk away, no harm done. After the North Korean government threatened to scuttle the talks this week in response to com-

JOSH ROGIN Commentary

ments from national security adviser John Bolton, the White House doubled down on this assertion. In reality, the dynamics that made a successful maximum-pressure campaign possible have changed fundamentally. The United States and its allies have paused their ef forts to increase sanctions on North Korea to give diplomacy a chance to work. The sting of the existing sanctions naturally erodes over time. There are reports that China is already easing up on its sanctions enforcement, allowing more laborers and goods to flow over North

Korea’s northern border. The mood in South Korea has changed significantly, making the threat of military action less credible. “You just can’t turn the maximum- pressure switch back on unless you can persuade the South Koreans and the Chinese to do that,” said former State Department nonproliferation official Joseph DeThomas. “By the end of last year, time was on our side, and what Kim has done is that he’s flipped us. Time is no longer on our side.” As Trump is finding out after pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, snapping back an inter national sanctions regime that took years of diplomacy and political will to build is not easy, especially when your partners don’t see eye to eye. The North Koreans know

this perfectly well. By seeming like a constructive actor, Kim is also preparing for what happens next if talks fail. The United States will be hard-pressed to win international support for striking North Korea’s nuclear program while Kim is slowly dismantling it himself. South Koreans won’t want to reverse history and go back to a standoff with Pyongyang. U.S. officials insist the United States has not given up anything and won’t give real concessions until North Korea takes concrete steps toward total denuclearization. The United States and South Korea have kept joint military exercises low-key in response to North Korea’s complaints, but mostly the Trump administration has held firm. Please see squeeze, Page A15

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Letter guideLines Letters to the editor must include the author’s name and town of residence for publication, and a daytime telephone number for confirmation. Letters must be 300 words or fewer and are subject to editing. Mail: Your Voice, The Citizens’ Voice, 75 N. Washington St., WilkesBarre, PA 18701 Email: yourvoice@citizensvoice.com Fax: 570-821-2247


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‘She waS a great mother’

99¢

PA. BUDGET

No panic in capitol as budget push nears Republican leaders hope to wrap up deal before June 30 deadline. BY MARK SCOLFORO aSSoCiated preSS

HOW WE DID IT Warren ruda / Staff photographer

The urn containing the remains of Mariah Noon sits next to a framed photo of her as her daughters, Adrionna Noon, left, and Mariah Burke and her mother, Maryann Sura, discuss her February 2017 overdose death.

Mariah Noon, who died from an overdose in 2017, ‘became a totally different person.’ BY BOB KALINOWSKI Staff Writer

teenage daughters live. “She got mad at me and left,” Dacia recalled. PLYMOUTH — Mariah Noon’s body still felt According to Mariah’s family, the day before the warm when her fiance found her in bed the morning overdose, Shawn knocked on their door, said he got of Feb. 4, 2017. kicked out of his house and asked if he could stay On the other side of the apartment, their friend for a few days. Shawn was ice cold, indicating his death came first. He wouldn’t last a day. One basement apartment. One They Citizens’ Voice is not fully night. Two drug deaths. identifying Shawn because efforts to Mariah’s sister, Dacia, who lives in reach his family were not successful. the same building, hasn’t stepped While Dacia refuses to revisit the foot in the apartment since the grim apartment, Mariah’s daughter, Adridiscovery. onna, 19, still lives there. “I can’t go in there — and my “I feel close to her down there. I daughter lives down there,” she said. feel safe,” Adrionna said. “She was a Investigators initially considered great mother — except for her past. the twin deaths on East Main Street She had a bad past that led her to to be suspicious before ruling the drugs.” friends overdosed on drugs together. Life stories from a drug crisis Mariah left behind another daughBoth consumed the synthetic opioid ter, who also was named Mariah. Part 2 of a series fentanyl and had other drugs in After her mother’s death, little their systems, officials said. Mariah, 15, checked into an inpaMariah, 36, had been struggling with sobriety for tient treatment center for trauma and stress, where years and had recently moved into the apartment she spent six months. building with Dacia. “My mom was my best friend,” she said. “I had to Dacia was making her detox and stay sober. Upset get help. It was too much for me to handle.” by the house rules, Mariah decided to live below Dacia in a basement apartment, where both of their Please see NOON, Page A4

LOST BUT

LOVED

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

MORE ONLINE find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/.

READ MORE ■ a look at adhd and addiction. Page A4 ■ is forcing someone into rehab the answer? Page A4

HARRISBURG — As the most intense part of this year’s budget season is about to get underway, it’s been remarkably quiet in the state Capitol, and policymakers say they’re hopeful that bodes well for an improvement in what’s been a strained process for several years. Republican leaders in the Legislature say they hope a deal can be completely wrapped up before the June 30 deadline, thanks to stable tax revenues and a political environment that has lowered expectations for major new initiatives. “You’re not talking about billion-dollar deficits anymore,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, while at the same time cautioning that “you never know how things turn out.” The state budget has been a nightmarish process for the past decade, as sluggish revenues, rising health care costs, business tax cuts and long-avoided bills coming due for pension obligations combined to put the crunch on state finances. These days the focus is on revenues that appear to be meeting projections. A governor’s race and looming legislative elections may also have a lot to do with the subdued tone. “It’s quiet because the gravity of the decisions that need to be made to accommodate very challenging financial situations creates a louder conversation because it’s more controversial,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has not signed the main budget bills during any of his first three years in office, instead letting spending plans passed by the Republicanmajority House and Senate take effect without his signature. Please see BUDGET, Page A5 ADVE RTISE M E NT

Scranton dentist cited connections to trump in seeking Florida license BY TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER Staff Writer

JaKe danna SteVenS / timeS-ShamroCK fiLe

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to supporters during a campaign stop at the Lackawanna College Student Union in Scranton in July 2016.

A prominent Scranton dentist repeatedly name-dropped his friend, President Donald Trump, at a recent hearing in Florida to help obtain a license to practice in Palm Beach, records show. Dr. Albert Hazzouri Jr. identified himself as Trump’s dentist in a letter to Florida’s dental board — a claim he now HAZZOURI a c k n o w l e d g e s i s untrue. At the May 18 hearing, he told board members the president personally requested he

seek the license, in part, so he could treat the Trump family and other dignitaries if the need arose. His references to Trump at the hearing gave the impression he was attempting to use his friendship with the president to convince the board to overlook deficiencies in his application. The story was first reported May 18 by Politico, a news organization that focuses on political news, and quoted three anonymous sources. Hazzouri adamantly denies the allegations and said the Politico story is “100 percent inaccurate.” Please see DENTIST, Page A5

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A4 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018

FEBRUARY 2017 DRUG DEATHS

WarreN ruda / staFF pHotograpHer

Mariah Noon died from a drug overdose in February 2017. Her daughters, Adrionna Noon, left, and Mariah Burke, right, sit with her mother, Maryann Sura, as they share memories and discuss her death.

Maryann Sura, 56, of Larksville, thinks her daughter’s propensitytousedrugsstartedasa teenager when doctors and school officials recommended she be medicated to deal with hyperactive behavior. Shedeclinedandtookclasses withherdaughterforsixweeks attheChildren’sServiceCenter inWilkes-Barre.Schoolofficials and doctors didn’t see any change, and again recommended medication — such as Ritalin, a stimulant commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Sura said. “I did it. I didn’t want to, but I did it,” Sura said. “I think it taught her how to self-medicate.” Mariah got a paper route at age14andtookthenursingprogram at West Side Technical School. She even helped with her father’s dry wall business when her parents were out of town. “We gave her all the books

‘I consider this drug dealer a serial killer. Yes, she wasn’t forced to take it, but he should have known it could kill someone.’ MARYANN SURA

mother of overdose victim

Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. call 570-829-1341 or visit www.helpline-nepa.info. the state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLp).

ing to Mariah for more than two years. “I thought tough love would work,” Sura said. “But it didn’t.” Theyreconnectedintheyear leading up to her death. Sura thoughtMariahwasdoingwell. “She called me and told me shewentandgotsomehelp.She said she couldn’t promise she would never try it again, but she would try,” Sura said. Sura pulled out the urn of her daughter’s ashes and began to cry. She said she hopes the person who sold the drugs to her is identified and arrested one day. “I consider this drug dealer a serial killer. Yes, she wasn’t forced to take it, but he should have known it could kill someone. I wish he gets caught. I want him to be severely punished,” Sura said. “She was beautiful and this is where she ended up.”

COUNTY ASSISTANCE the Luzerne county drug and alcohol program can be reached at 570-8268790.

CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE

and she paid all the bills,” Sura said. In the years to come, Mariah would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and stricken with giant cysts on her ovaries that requiredsurgeryandpainmedication. Mariah eventually started using street drugs and began stealing fromthe family. “She became a totally different person I didn’t know,” Sura said. “That wasn’t my daugh- Contact the writer: bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com ter.” Sura eventually stopped talk- 570-821-2055; @cvbobkal

Is there a link between ADHD and addiction?

BY BOB KALINOWSKI staFF Writer

Will medicating your child’s hyperactivity with stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall make them more susceptible to addiction as an adult? A major national study has concluded no. But the underlying attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder might make one more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol later in life, experts say. “The medication actually may help you avoid being a drug addict. It may help you to develop yourself if you really need medicine,” said Dr. Arza Sehic, a pediatrician based in Plains Twp. Sehic said it’s normal to be “a little hyperactive” and only those with a “major” problem need medication. She said only

compared to kids with ADHD who don’t take the medications, the study found. UCLA psychologists ana20 lyzed 18 long-term studies that followed 2,500 children with 15 ADHD from childhood into adolescence and young adult10 hood. Their report was included 5 in the May 2013 issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry, a JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUNE JULY AUG SEPT OCT NOV DEC monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal published by the THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in February and whether medications American Medical Associafor attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder make people more likely to get addicted. tion. “For parents whose major concern about Ritalin and 2 percent of the children she ‘The medication actually may help you Adderall is about the future treats have ADHD and about avoid being a drug addict. It may help risk for substance abuse, this half of them are prescribed study may be helpful to them,” medicine. you to develop yourself if you really Kathryn Humphreys, leading Children with ADHD often need medicine.’ author of the study, wrote at have “additional underlying the time. “We found that on problems” that make thempreDR. ARZA SEHIC average, their child is at no disposed to using drugs, she pediatrician more or less at risk for later said. “I think it’s more an issue of 2013, asking “Are children who assessment ever on this ques- substance dependence. This does not apply to every child society and their surround- take Ritalin for ADHD at great- tion.” ings,” Sehic said. er risk of future drug abuse?” Children who take medica- but does apply on average.” Reachers at the University They concluded no. The tions like Ritalin and Adderall Contact the writer: of California, Los Angeles researchers billed the study as are at no greater risk of drug bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com (UCLA) tackled the subject in “the most comprehensive and alcohol use later in life 570-821-2055; @cvbobkal 25

2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES

Number of deaths

Experts say the disorder may make people more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol later in life.

NEED HELP?

IN A CRISIS

NOON: Overdose victim was diagnosed with ADHD as a child From page a1

twelve people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne county in February 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed: ■ Feb. 4: mariah Noon, 36, from plymouth. ■ Feb. 4: male, 41, from plymouth area. ■ Feb. 4: male, 64, from Hazleton area. ■ Feb. 8: Female, 56, from dallas area. ■ Feb. 10: male, 62, from Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Feb. 11: male, 41, from Hazleton area. ■ Feb. 11: Female, 55, from Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Feb. 12: Female, 26, from Nanticoke area. ■ Feb. 14: male, 32, from Blakeslee area. ■ Feb. 15: Female, 57, from Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Feb. 18: male, 50, from Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Feb. 25: Female, 52, residence unknown.

the pennsylvania department of Health has recommended facilities around the state that are “ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to substance use disorder treatment.” two in Luzerne county are: ■ clean slate 189 e. market st. Wilkes-Barre, pa. 18702 570-846-2720 ■ miners medical 43 s. main st. ashley, pa. 18706 570-822-5145

MEDICATION-BASED TREATMENT CLINICS there are facilities where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy after trying inpatient drug rehabilitation. ■ medication-assisted treatment addiction clinic geisinger south WilkesBarre 25 church st. Wilkes-Barre, pa 18701 570-808-3700 (Buprenorphine, suboxone or naltrexone, Vivitrol) ■ miners medical 43 s. main st. ashley, pa 18706 opens: 5:30 a.m. 570-822-5145 (methadone) ■ cHoices rear 307 Laird st. plains twp., pa 18702 opens: 6:15 a.m. 570-408-9320 (methadone) For more treatment options, go to citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid

In the addiction battle, is forced rehab the solution? BY PHILIP MARCELO associated press

QUINCY, Mass. — The last thing Lizabeth Loud wanted, a month from giving birth, was to be forced into treatment for her heroin and prescription painkiller addiction. But her mother saw no other choice, and sought a judge’s order to have her committed against her will. Three years later, Loud said her month in state prison, where Massachusetts sent civilly committed women until recent reforms, was the eLise ameNdoLa / associated press wake-up call she needed. “I was really miserable Lizabeth Loud, 32, plays with her son Eaghan, 2, at when I was there,” the 32-yeartheir home in Randolph, Mass., earlier this month.

old Boston-area resident said. “That was one bottom I wasn’t willing to revisit again.” An Associated Press check of data in some key states has found that the use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising. And in many places, lawmakers are trying to create or strengthen laws allowing authorities to force people into treatment. But critics, including many doctors, law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates, caution that success stories like Loud’s are an exception. Research suggests involuntary commit-

ment largely doesn’t work and could raise the danger of overdose for those who relapse after treatment. And expanding civil commitment laws, critics argue, could also violate due process rights, overwhelm emergency rooms and confine people in prisonlike environments, where treatment sometimes amounts to little more than forced detox without medications to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms. At least 35 states currently have provisions that allow families or medical professionals to petition a judge, who can then order an indi-

vidual into treatment if they deem the person a threat to themselves or others. But the laws haven’t always been frequently used. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year allowing police officers to civilly commit a person into treatment for up to three days. In Washington state, legislation that took effect April 1 grants mental health professionals similar shortterm emergency powers. In both states, a judge’s order would still be required to extend the treatment. Please see REHAB, Page A5


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SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018

THE CITIZENS' VOICE A5

DENTIST: Wants to open practice for underprivileged FROM PAGE A1

ELISE AMENDOLA / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pat Cronin, a director at the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center in Quincy, Mass., waits to share information and counseling at a newly opened drop-in center for substance abusers in Canton, Mass., earlier this month. Cronin credits his sobriety to his parents’ decision to have him involuntarily committed for heroin use almost 15 years ago.

REHAB: Similar bill proposed in Pa. FROM PAGE A4

Massachusetts reported more than 6,000 forced commitments for drug addiction in both fiscal years 2016 and 2017, up from fewer than 3,000 in fiscal year 2006. In Kentucky, judges issued more than 200 orders of involuntary commitment for alcohol or drug abuse in the last calendar year, up from just five in 2004, according to court records. The state has so far reported nearly 100 such commitments this year. But researchers caution there hasn’t been enough study on whether forced treatment is actually working. And many states don’t track whether people are being civilly committed multiple times, let alone whether they get sober for good, the AP found. In Massachusetts, where fatal overdoses dropped for the first time in seven years in 2017, state public health officials don’t credit increased use of civil commitment, but rather better training for medical professionals, tighter regulations on painkillers, more treatment beds, wider distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and other initiatives. A review published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2016 found “little evidence” forced treatment was effective in promoting sobriety or reducing criminal recidivism. Another 2016 study by Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health found the involuntarily committed were more than twice as likely to die of an opioid-related over-

dose than those who went voluntarily, but those findings shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of the process, argues Health and Human Services office spokeswoman Elissa Snook. “Patients who are committed for treatment are among the sickest, most complex and at the greatest risk for an overdose,” she said. “Involuntary commitment is an emergency intervention, to help individuals stay alive until they are capable of entering treatment voluntarily.” Most states send the civilly committed to treatment facilities run or contracted by public health agencies. The costs generally fall on patients, their families or insurance providers. Massachusetts stands out because, until recently, it sent those civilly committed for drug addiction to prisons. That decadeslong practice ended for women in 2016, but many men are still sent to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, which is housed in a minimum-security prison in Plymouth, near Cape Cod. Patients wear correctionsissued uniforms and submit to prison regulations like room searches and solitary confinement. They also aren’t give n methadone or buprenorphine to help wean off heroin or other opioids, as they might in other treatment centers. Michelle Wiley, whose 29-year-old son David McKinley killed himself there in September after he asked her to have him civilly committed

for the third time, said she isn’t opposed to expanded use of the practice as long as those with addiction aren’t sent to places like Plymouth. In the days before he hanged himself in his room, Wiley said, her son had complained to her about dirty conditions, poor food and not enough substance abuse counselors while he went through withdrawal. “You think it’s going to be helpful until you hear what it’s like,” she said. “If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t send him to that place.” The corrections department has since taken steps to improve conditions, including more frequent patrols by prison guards and extended hours for mental health professionals, de par tment spokesman Jason Dobson said. As for Loud, the Massachusetts woman civilly committed while pregnant, she said she has found peace. After briefly relapsing following her son’s birth, she has been sober for about a year and a half. She focuses her energies on raising her son, attending regular support meetings and pursuing a passion sidelined by her addiction: competitive Muay Thai fighting. Her fourth bout is in July. Loud has also reconciled with her mother. The two now live together, along with her son. “It took me a long time to understand what she was going through,” Loud said. “She was just trying to save her daughter.”

Related bills have also been proposed this year in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where involuntary commitment has emerged as one of the more controversial parts of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s wide-ranging bill dealing with the opioid crisis. Massachusetts already allows for judges to order people to undergo up to three months of involuntary treatment, but lawmakers are considering giving some medical professionals emergency authority to commit people for up to three days without a judge’s order. The proposal is a critical stopgap for weekends and nights, when courts are closed, said Patrick Cronin, a director at the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center in Quincy, who credits his sobriety to his parents’ decision to have him involuntarily committed for heroin use almost 15 years ago. But giving doctors the ability to hold people in need of treatment against their will, as Massachusetts lawmakers propose, will burden emergency rooms, which already detain people with psychiatric problems until they can be taken to a mental health center, said Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, president of the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians, an advocacy group. “We’ve got a crowded plane, and you’re asking the pilots to fly for days waiting for an open landing strip while also making sure they’re taking care of the passengers and forcibly restraining the rowdy ones,” Lai-Becker said. Baker’s administration stressed the proposal wouldn’t take effect until 2020, providing time to work out concerns. Even without the state legislative efforts, use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising, according to infor mation the AP obtained from states that have historically used it the most. Florida reported more than 10,000 requests for commitment in both 2016 and 2015, up ELISE AMENDOLA / ASSOCIATED PRESS from more than 4,000 in 2000, Lizabeth Loud, 32, works out at the FAF Gym in Holbrook, Mass., on May 7. according to court records.

“I didn’t go down there and say ‘change the rules for me,’” Hazzouri said. The Scranton Times-Tribune, a Times-Shamrock newspaper, found his online application and an audio recording of his hearing on Florida Board of Dentistry’s website. In several interviews this week, Hazzouri said he sought the Florida license because he wants to open a practice to serve underprivileged people, including veterans, Native Americans, pregnant women and children. He also said the American Dental Association asked him to help form an oversight committee to address concerns that federal money earmarked for dental care for several underprivileged populations is being misspent. The committee plans to start its work in Florida, so he needs to have a license there, he said. Asked about Hazzouri’s claims, the ADA issued a statement that said the organization “has many programs aimed at improving access to oral care. We have had conversations with Dr. Hazzouri on addressing these challenges.” Hazzouri said the problems with his application stemmed from his misunderstanding of Florida’s rules. He contends it’s been turned into a political issue. “This is a situation about nothing more than poor paperwork execution in an effort to help the less fortunate obtain needed dental care,” he said. “Somehow this effort to help people in need has turned into a political story and that is very sad.” In the audio recording, Hazzouri referenced his relationship with Trump several times. He also lobbied to have the board consider his application despite the fact he did not take the required Florida dental board exam and was missing educational transcripts and CPR certification, also required to approve the license. “It’s a difficult situation but ... I believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” Hazzouri told the board, referring to his desire to serve the underprivileged. “I don’t think there has ever been, in any state or in any history, a dentist asking for this that has direct access to the president. I’m personal friends. We talk often. I’ll be seeing him next week.” At one point in the hearing, a board member stresses that the board does not have the power to waive licensure requirements. “Well, I believe my circumstance is quite different,” Hazzouri responds. He then explains that Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott requested he get the license and that he would use it to set up a practice to “treat the guests of the president and the president and his family.” Later in the hearing, Hazzouri alludes to meeting the prime minister of Japan and says Trump “asked me if, you know, get a license and take care of this guy for me.”

“It’s for that and it’s for his family,” Hazzouri said. Contacted Thursday, Mara Gambineri, spokeswoman for Scott, said the governor did not request Hazzouri seek a license and did not seek any special treatment for him. “Neither the governor, nor his staff, made any calls or conducted any outreach on behalf of Dr. Hazzouri,” she said in an email. The audio recording also shows that several times during the hearing, Hazzouri alludes to treating Trump. Hazzouri acknowledged to The Times-Tribune that he is not the president’s dentist and was incorrectly identified as such in a letter to the board that was included with his license application. Hazzouri initially denied writing the letter and told the newspaper he had never seen it before. It was only after the newspaper advised him of an email exchange between him and the dental board’s executive director that showed the letter was sent from his office that Hazzouri acknowledged it. Hazzouri said a “series of clerical errors” led his staff to mistakenly send the letter to the board without his approval or consent. “The draft, which is unsigned and inaccurately stated that I am the dentist of the president ... was attached to the papers that went to the Florida Dental Board,” Hazzouri said. “In my haste to advance a project that is very important and special to me, I proceeded too quickly and delegated too much of the legwork.” He also noted that he never told the board during the hearing that he is currently treating the president. His comments referenced future treatment he might provide if he is granted a license. “If I’m down in Florida taking care of the underserved and the president wants dental care, I would be in a position to help him,” Hazzouri said. Trump did describe Hazzouri as his friend when he was campaigning at a July 27, 2016, rally at Lackawanna College. He pointed out Hazzouri in the crowd during his speech and complimented him as being a good golfer. There are also published photos with Hazzouri and his family at Trump’s Mar-aLago Club in Palm Beach. Hazzouri ultimately decided to accept the Florida dental board’s advice to withdraw his license application and instead seek a “health access license,” which would grant him a limited ability to practice in Florida. “I take full responsibility for the actions of my staff, but I now know that it would have been much easier to simply request a health access license to accomplish my goal of helping those who are unable to obtain the dental care they need,” Hazzouri said. “I am working on correcting these unfortunate errors and looking forward to reapplying in the future.” Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock. com; 570-348-9137 @tmbeseckerTT

BUDGET: Wolf wants more money allocated for addiction treatment FROM PAGE A1

Asked about that record, the administration provided a written statement that he’s supported the last two spending plans but “refused to sign spending bills that weren’t paid for by the General Assembly, which failed to pass all the main components of the budget on time. Gov. Wolf drew a line in the sand and refused to allow backdoor cuts to education, health care or programs for seniors.” Wolf is currently less than six months away from facing voters as he seeks a second term, running against state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York,

who will have a vote on the budget bills. During the annual budget speech in February, Wolf endorsed additional spending on career and technical education and again advocated for a tax on natural gas drilling, a perennial Democratic proposal that Republicans have perennially opposed. He also wants more money for addiction treatment. The governor’s $33 billion proposal would represent a 3 percent increase, including about $225 million more for education and a $230 million increase for services at home for the elderly and disabled. He also wants a $25-per-per-

son fee for state police coverage in areas that do not have their own full-time police force, a proposal previously rejected by Republicans — many from rural districts where state police represent the first line of law enforcement. “The governor didn’t introduce a budget that had a lot of controversy to it,” said Sen. Vince Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. He said he sees the Capitol “evolving into a budget season that hopefully is short.” Speaking to the Pennsylvania Press Club last week, Sen-

ate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said he was disappointed he could not reach a deal with Wolf last year that traded a modest gas drilling tax for regulatory changes to help the industry push back against fee increases, inspections and permit delays. He now thinks that could happen next year, or maybe in five years, or maybe after he’s left the Senate — but predicted that if it gets ironed out, “we’re not going to have the deal that we had last year.” The Wolf administration says the governor’s shale tax proposal would generate $249 million next year,

$264 million in 2019-20 and $355 million in 2020-21. Scarnati said he hopes to direct more money to improve school safety by the time a spending plan is enacted in the coming weeks or months. “I believe we can increase some grants to schools that would hire and put on board professionals in order to help students, if they have issues,” he said. Rep. Joe Markosek of Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on Appropriations, said the form is to be determined but the general support for school safety money is broad. “I would say that’s very

high on everyone’s agenda this year,” Markosek said. The state’s financial picture got a bit brighter with a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month legalizing sports betting, although the administration is still trying to sort out how much it will be worth. On the other hand, there’s a recent federal court ruling that $200 million in the current year’s budget can’t be siphoned out of a fund for medical malpractice insurance. After Memorial Day weekend, the House will be in session for 16 days and the Senate 14 before the budget deadline.


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June final frontier for overhaul legislation If no bill passes soon, it will become extremely difficult to change the district-drawing process before 2022’s elections. BY MARC LEVY AssociAted Press

HARRISBURG — An issue that, for years, had little oxygen keeping it alive could become the talk of Pennsylvania’s Capitol during June’s long, humid days of budget-making. Some top Republican lawmakers have joined an effort to overhaul how Pennsylvania draws its legislative and U.S. House district boundaries, now that the state’s highest court dealt those same Republican lawmakers a stinging loss in a congressional gerrymandering case that made national headlines. Here’s the catch: There is a tight deadline to win approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature for a politically thorny concept. If no bill passes in the coming weeks, it becomes a practical impossibility to amend the constitution to change the district-drawing process before 2022’s elections, when every state must draw new boundaries to account for decade-long population shifts identified in the Census. “I’m not even thinking that far ahead,” said Senate State Government Committee Chairman Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, who is working to shepherd a bill through his chamber. “I want this done by July 6.” For years, a handful of lawmakers — primarily Democrats — and advocacy groups have pressed the case to create an independent citizen line-drawing commission, in theory to take politics out of the process. That cause picked up new supporters after Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office in 2011 produced what was widely viewed as one of the nation’s most gerrymandered maps of congressional districts. Republicans hit a home run with that map: GOP candidates won 13 of Pennsylvania’s18U.S.Houseseatsinthreestraight electionsduringaperiodwhen Democrats won 18 of 24 statewide elections.

MArk MorAn / stAff PhotogrAPher

Ray and Sonia Bowman show the Gift of Life donor certificate in memory of their son, Eric Bowman, who died of a drug overdose in March 2017.

Eric Bowman, who died of heroin overdose in 2017, brought new life through organ donation. BY BOB KALINOWSKI stAff Writer

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Following alternating bouts with deaths from the opioid epidrug abuse and recovery, Eric Bowdemic have led to record man’s relapse in number of organ donations. March 2017 killed Page A4 him, but brought new life to some- gotten about, that because of him one he never met. there’s another gentleman who is After the Hun- able to go on,” Eric’s mother, Sonia, lock Creek man 54, said. BOWMAN died of a heroin Around the country, a record overdose, one of number of fatal his kidneys was drug overdoses transplanted in a from opioids like dying man in Texheroin is leading as. to a surge in organ The 70-year-old donations and kidney recipient, transplants — perwhowaslanguishhaps the lone posiing with end-stage tive of the epidemrenal failure, has ic. returned to good After Eric, 29, Life stories from a drug crisis health. He recentoverdosed, he Part 3 of a series ly thanked Eric’s had almost zero survivors in a letbrain activity terforthe“preciousgift.”Theyplan and was placed on life support. to meet this summer. When family members found “I’m just so thankful a part of him is still going — that he’s not forPlease see BOWMAN, Page A4

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About 35 teams participated in the fundraiser where members walk for 24 hours. BY CLAYTON OVER stAff Writer

SCRANTON — The bow in 1-year-old Brynnlee Turner’s hair matched the writing on her shirt as she made her way around the warning track at PNC Field on Saturday morning. “Purple’s for Dad, White’s for Mom, Us and this cancer

just can’t get along,” the purple script on the back read. About a dozen others in similar white and purple shirts walked with Brynnlee. They call themselves Team Turner, one of about 35 teams to participate in the first Relay for Life of NEPA super relay, a fundraiser where team members walk for 24 hours. The rhyme on the back is in honor and memory of Brynnlee’s christoPher dolAn / stAff PhotogrAPher grandparents and Billy Turner Jr.’s parents, Beverly Sarah Lawson of Kingston, right, shows Isabella and William Turner Sr. Turner, 7, of Plymouth, how to place beads on a neckPlease see RELAY, Page A5

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A04] | 06/02/18

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SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

Surge in overdose deaths has led to increase in organ donations BY BOB KALINOwSKI StaFF WrIter

Gift of Life Donor Program

Grieving families of some Demographic Comparison drug overdose victims are a look at donors who died from drug intoxication versus finding solace in the fact all manners of death from 2008 – 2017: that surging deaths from the opioid epidemic have led to All Manners Drug a record number of organ Intoxication of Death donations around the counAverage Age 45 33 try. Ethnicity 74% white 89% white The Gift of Life Donor Program — which organizGender 60% male 62% male es all donations in Eastern Donation Rate 56% 76% Pennsylvania, souther n New Jersey and Delaware — SoUrCe: gIFt oF LIFe DoNor Program has seen a dramatic increase in the past five hOw wE DID IT years of donors who died of drug overdoses. this series is the result of their stories and offer WarreN rUDa / StaFF PhotograPher The number of Gift of months of work by our insight into the scourge of Ray and Sonia talk about the death on their son Eric and the decision to use the Life donors who died of an newsroom staff. drug abuse. Gift of Life Donor Program. overdose increased from 35 Following a record-breaking We are not publishing the in 2012 to 154 last year, or a year for overdoses in names of all victims, just Luzerne County in 2017, 440 percent increase. Total those whose survivors which contributed to the chose to participate. they organs donated during that declaration of a statewide were eager to share not time jumped from 101 to 490. From Page a1 disaster emergency in Jan- only the pain and frustra“It’s tragic for the famiMARCh 2017 OVERDOSE VICTIMS uary, we used the state tion that addiction has lies, but they see organ his driver’s license, they disfrom the Shickshinny area. ten people died of drug right-to-Know Law to brought to their lives, but donation as making some covered he was a organ donor ■ march 16: male, 55, overdoses in Luzerne secure the names of all also the love and fond sense out of the tragedy,” — a cause they long supported. from the harveys Lake County in march 2017, 151 victims and reached memories they hold still said Howard Nathan, presiarea. according to the county Surgeons were able to take out to their families to tell for those they have lost. dent and CEO of the Gift of ■ march 17: male, 42, coroner’s office. the Citione of his kidneys and his liver, Life program. zens’ Voice is naming only from the Wilkes-Barre which went to another patient Contrary to what some GIFT OF LIFE PROGRAM area. those whose families theyhaveyettoidentify. people might think, organs ■ march 19: Female, 27, agreed to be interviewed. gift of Life Donor Program Organs from drug overOver the past year, the Gift of from opioid overdose vicfrom Wapwallopen. ■ march 1: Female, 51, dose donors: organizes all organ donaLife program served as an intertims are fine to transplant — ■ march 22: Female, 27, from the West Side. tions in eastern Pennsylva- 2000: 18 mediary between Eric’s family particularly because the from the hazleton area. ■ march 10: male, 66, 2005: 25 nia, southern New Jersey andthekidneyreceipt,exchangdeceased tend to be younger ■ march 30: eric Bowfrom Drums. 2010: 64 and Delaware. inglettersbetweenthem. and otherwise healthy, man, 29, from hunlock ■ march 11: Female, 59, 2015: 256 Drug overdose donors: “Ican’tthankyouenoughfor Creek. from the Wilkes-Barre Nathan said. 2017: 490 2000: 6 the precious gift of Eric’s left ■ march 30: Female, 33, area. “The opioids and fentanyl 2005: 8 kidney,” the recipient, only from the hazleton area. ■ march 12: male, 36, more information can be 2010: 20 don’t affect the organs themidentified as Rick, wrote in a found at www.donors1. 2015: 81 selves. They stop breathing recent letter. “Your most generorg. 2017: 154 and their heart stops. The ous gift has given me a new DO YOU NEED hELP? oxygen deprivation makes lease on life. I will treasure this IN A CRISIS them brain dead. The organs MORE ONLINE gift and take good care of it. I MEDICATION-BASED Local caseworkers for actually recover and the Find more stories, and comments from our hope it will give you great comTREATMENT CLINICS helpline are available 24 resources, video, interacreaders at citizensvoicedrugs themselves don’t affect fort to know that Eric will live hours a day to refer callers there are facilities where tive features, a podcast blogs.com/opioid/. the organs,” Nathan said. oninme.” people with opioid to resources available for Donors are usually kept As Sonia Bowman read from those with drug and alcohol dependency go to alive on a ventilator until the letter during an interview, receive medicationproblems. Call 570-829Dr. Michael Marvin, we try not to focus on it transplants can be organized herhusbandRaystartedtocry. 1341 or visit www.helpline- based treatment therapy director of organ trans- because we try to focus on around the country. “I couldn’t read it out loud,” after trying inpatient nepa.info. The United Network for p l a n t s f o r G e i s i n g e r the lives of the people we hesaid. the state has a similar pro- drug rehabilitation. Organ Sharing in January Health System, said the are trying to help,” Margram, “Pa get help Now.” Just recently, the Bowmans announced a record number surge in fatal overdoses is vin said. Medication-Assisted Treatthe phone number is and the man were able to Marvin encouraged peoof organs were recovered in an unfortunate part of ment Addiction Clinic 1-800-662-4357 (heLP). exchange information to contoday’s society, but some p l e t o b e c o m e o r g a n the United States from 10,281 geisinger South Wilkestacteachotherdirectly. donors in 2017, a 3 percent families find a “silver lin- donors because there are Barre COUNTY ASSISTANCE The Bowmans would like to increase over 2016. The ing” that their loved one’s tens of thousands of peo25 Church St. the Luzerne County Drug tellthemanabouttheirson—a increase was fueled in part by o r g a n s c a n l ive o n i n ple waiting on transplant and alcohol Program can be Wilkes-Barre, Pa 18701 lover of animals and motorcylists. overdose deaths, the organi- someone else. reached at 570-826-8790. 570-808-3700 cles. “These people are dying Marvin, who has twin 18 zation said. The total wasn’t (Buprenorphine, Suboxone Ray Bowman, 57, said he’s because not enough people year olds, said it is imposbroken down by the number CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE or naltrexone, Vivitrol) gladhissonwillliveoninsomeare saying yes,” Marvin sible not to feel bad for the of donors who overdosed. the Pennsylvania Departoneelse,andhopesmorepeople ment of health has recom- Miners Medical Most commonly trans- overdose victims, most of said. “The need is so great.” will think of being organ 43 S. main St. mended facilities around planted organs are kidneys, them younger, and their Contact the writer: donors. bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com, ashley, Pa 18706 the state that are “aheadlivers, hearts and lungs, offi- families. “I’m glad that it’s becoming a “We think about it, but 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal of-the-curve when it comes opens: 5:30 a.m. cials say. priority — as opposed to the 570-822-5145 to substance use disorder organs not being used for any(methadone) treatment.” 160 154 thing.It’sashameithadtocome two in Luzerne County are: tothis,butthat’sthesilverlining CHOICES GIFT OF LIFE DONORS 140 rear 307 Laird St. init.” Clean Slate 121 the number of organ donors who died 120 Plains twp., Pa 18702 189 e. market St. After Eric’s eldest brother, by drug intoxication has risen since 2000. opens: 6:15 a.m. Wilkes-Barre, Pa 18702 Jason, died in 2002 in a car 100 570-408-9320 570-846-2720 crash, he started drinking alco81 80 (methadone) holtocope. Miners Medical Eric’s parents first heard 60 52 For more treatment options, 43 S. main St. abouttheirson’suseof drugsin 45 40 go to citizensvoiceblogs. ashley, Pa. 18706 40 35 2012 when his girlfriend told com/opioid 570-822-5145 21 21 20 19 them he had been snorting pre18 20 13 9 8 6 5 5 scriptionpainkillers,prescribed After a successful stint in that night and doubt they ever for his herniated discs, to get 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 rehab, Eric remained in the will. It’s believed Eric and high. SoUrCe: gIFt oF LIFe DoNor Program “She gave him a choice. Stop Sunshine State and starting acquaintances were in the or she was leaving him,” Sonia working construction. One day, Shickshinny area when he he fell off a ladder and broke overdosed. Rather than call recalled. “The drugs became a priori- botharms.Heneededpainmed- 911 to dispatch the nearest icationagain. ty,”Raysaid. ambulance, the people he Eric eventually moved back was with drove him to Wil“He wasn’t taking them the right way. It got to the point it toPennsylvaniainAugust2016. kes-Barre General, they Family thought he was doing said. He later was transwasn’t enough for him, so he started using other drugs,” well, but he got arrested for ferred to Geisinger Wyostealing steaks at a local super- ming Valley Medical CenSoniasaid. BY CAThERINE hO of California schools of higher doses of methadone SaN FraNCISCo ChroNICLe At one point, Bowman and market. Due to a bail violation, ter in Plains Twp., where are causing heart damage. medicine. friends lived in a used motor he ended up in jail for several he died and where the SAN FRANCISCO — DurSnyder also is working The program, funded by home they would park all over weeks. organ donation was com- ing the three years that Dr. the city and county of San with hospitals across the After getting out of jail, he pleted. the Hunlock Creek area. But Hannah Snyder worked at Francisco, is designed to give United States to create new one day when their drug supply was pretty much restricted to Eric’s parents think first San Francisco General Hos- doctors like Snyder extensive p ro t o c o l s fo r t re at i n g dried up, they sold the vehicle to hisparents’house. responders might have pital -- part of her residency training in addiction medi- patients with opioid-use dis“Wedidn’tlethimgooutwith been able to revive their training to become a prima- cine at the beginning of their order, using San Francisco buymore. In early January 2015, an anyone. He was basically stuck son with naloxone, the opi- ry care doctor -- she noticed careers. It is part of a broad- General and Oakland’s HighacquaintancetoldEric’sparents in the house,” Sonia Bowman oid reversal drug, if they a troubling pattern. er shift by medical schools land Hospital as models. their son was staying at a Wil- said. were called immediately. Patients were coming in around the country to adapt That primarily means getkes-Barremotelandwaswilling Then one night Eric decided The Bowmans say they with skin abscesses and to the opioid crisis by better ting patients started on togethelpfordrugaddiction. to go visit his sister’s house in were shocked at his death. heart valve infections over incorporating addiction med- buprenorphine or methaThepersontheyencountered Nanticoke around 1 a.m. He “We would have expected and over again. Both are icine -- historically a field done — two long-term prelooked nothing like the Eric snuckoutof herhousearound3 it before, but not when he common medical complica- within psychiatry — into scription medications for opithey remembered. His hair was a.m. By 6 a.m., they got a call did, because he was doing so tions from long-term use of overall medical training. oid-use disorder — when they long and disheveled and he’d fromWilkes-BarreGeneralHos- well,” Sonia said. heroin, when injected with “I started learning about come to the hospital after grown a thick beard. They sent pital.Theoutlookwasn’tgood. needles that are not sterile. treating addiction and realiz- overdosing or having severe Contact the writer: him to a drug rehabilitation Eric’s parents don’t know the bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com, “We’ll give them antibiot- ing we had highly effective withdrawal symptoms. Many facilityinFlorida. full story about what happened 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal ics and send them on their medications to treat addic- public health officials and way, but that doesn’t get to tion,’’ said Snyder, one of two addiction experts have advothe root of the problem,’’ doctors scheduled to com- cated this approach in recent 2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES 25 Snyder said. plete the fellowship this years as the number of The experience prompted month. ``I got really excited deaths from opioid overdoses 20 Snyder, once she completed about that because there’s a continues to climb. Nationally, opioid overdostraining in 2017, to begin a way to prevent people from year-long fellowship in having those complications es accounted for 42,000 deaths 15 in 2016, more than any other addiction medicine. The in the first place.’’ School of Medicine at the As part of the training, year on record, according to 10 University of California at Snyder works at Ward 93, a federal health data. In CaliSan Francisco started the methadone clinic at San fornia, the number of people 5 program last year, partially Francisco General Hospital, dying from opioid overdoses in response to the growing where she meets with — both prescription and illeJAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUNE JULY AUG SEPT OCT NOV DEC need to treat opioid addic- patients to discuss treatment gal drugs — has held relativetion in Califor nia and options and reviews results ly steady, between 1,900 and THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in march and how the number beyond. It is the first such of medical tests to monitor of fatal overdoses have affected organ donation rates. fellowship in the University whether, among other things, Please see TRAINING, Page A15 Number of donations

BOwMAN: ‘Drugs became a priority’

Number of deaths

Amid opioid crisis, medical schools bolster training


WB_VOICE/PAGES [A15] | 06/02/18

22:28 | BOONELAURA

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SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

THE CITIZENS' VOICE A15

TRAINING: 42,000 died from opioid overdoses in 2016 FROM PAGE A4

JON SHAPELY / HOUSTON CHRONICLE VIA AP

Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston has suspended all medical procedures in its renowned heart transplant program following the deaths this year of at least three patients.

Renowned heart transplant program suspends operations ASSOCIATED PRESS

HOUSTON — A Houston hospital has suspended all medical procedures in its renowned heart transplant program following the deaths this year of at least three patients and the departure of several senior physicians. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center said Friday that the transplant program will be inactive for 14 days as administrators assess what’s gone awry. The decision follows a series of joint reports by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica revealing an unusually high number of patient deaths in recent years. The program’s inactive status means it will turn away all donor hearts during the suspension. “A l t h o u g h e x t e n s ive reviews are conducted on each unsuccessful transplant, the recent patient outcomes deserve an in-depth review before we move forward with the program,” Doug Lawson, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives Texas Division, which

owns St. Luke’s, said in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families, as well as all those on the waiting list.” The decision punctuates a dramatic fall for one of the nation’s most respected heart transplant programs. It was at St. Luke’s that famed surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world’s first heart transplants back in the 1960s. But staffers have recently raised concerns to hospital leaders about the program’s direction under Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, its surgical director since 2016, according to the Chronicle and ProPublica. Morgan did not respond to requests for comment. Some St. Luke’s cardiologists grew so troubled by the program’s direction in 2016 that they referred some patients to other hospitals for transplants. Officials at St. Luke’s and its affiliated Baylor College of Medicine have defended the program for weeks, saying they made improvements after a string of patient deaths in 2015. Officials said the pro-

gram’s one-year survival rate after heart transplants had reached 94 percent in 2016 and 2017. But of nine patients who received heart transplants at St. Luke’s since the start of 2018, at least three have died, according to interviews with patients’ family members, information provided by the hospital and data from the United Network for Organ Sharing. James “Lee” Lewis, a 52-year-old pipefitter from Bay City, Texas, received a transplant on Jan. 2. Operating room equipment malfunctioned during surgery, and the donor heart failed. He died nearly three months later after undergoing more than a dozen operations and suffering numerous complications. His wife, Jennifer, chronicled her husband’s transplant and drawn-out death on Facebook. “I’m glad they are doing something,” she said Friday. “That was my hope in speaking out and telling Lee’s story.”

2,000 people each year, for the past five years. But the number of deaths from fentanyl, an illegally produced opioid that is many times more powerful than prescription pills and heroin, is skyrocketing. In 2017, a record 746 Californians died after overdosing on fentanyl — more than triple the year before, and nine times what it was in 2013. The medical profession acknowledges that it played a role in creating the opioid epidemic. Many doctors began prescribing painkillers liberally, starting in the 1980s, believing the drugs were safe. Once they recognized the dangers and began curbing prescriptions, many patients turned instead to illicit opioids like heroin. Today, the medical community is grappling with the consequences. Since 2011, the Addiction Medicine Foundation has accredited 52 U.S. addiction

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A01] | 06/09/18

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Peter Butera was the valedictorian of the Wyoming Area Class of 2017.

Wyoming Area grad’s off-script speech led to changes

Local sailor killed in Pearl Harbor laid to rest after 77 years

N

School officials cut the audio to Peter Butera’s speech last year.

BY BOB KALINOWSKI StaFF Writer

EWPORT TWP. — Frank Slapikas came from Alabama to mourn an uncle he never met and greet a cousin he never knew existed. Frank Slapikas was 3-years-old when his dad’s brother, Edward F. Slapikas, was killed during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The 80-year-old and his newfound cousin, Leona Hotko, 89, of Kingston, are the only family members who were alive when Slapikas, 26, died almost 77 years ago without his remains ever being accounted for. They united Saturday in Newport Twp. to represent the Slapikas family for the sailor’s long-overdue homecoming and EDWARD SLAPIKAS funeral, as his remains were finally identified earlier this year and brought home for burial. “My only regret, of course, is my pop and all his brothers weren’t here to welcome their brother home, but they are looking down I’m sure with a big, big smile,” Frank Slapikas said. Edward Slapikas, who had five brothers and two sisters, was laid to rest Saturday in St. Mary’s Cemetery near his boyhood home in the township’s Wanamie section. Please see SLAPIKAS, Page A5

BY MICHAEL P. BUFFER StaFF Writer

chriStOpher DOlan / StaFF phOtOgrapher

ABOVE: U.S. Navy service members carry the casket of U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Edward Slapikas, a Newport Twp. native killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, as veterans salute outside Holy Spirit Parish at St. Adalbert Church in Glen Lyon on Saturday. TOP: Leona Hotko of Kingston, Slapikas’ niece, receives the flag from his casket from U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Robert Magnotta of Wyoming during a burial service at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wanamie.

Peter Butera plans to return to the scene of the crime for the upcoming Wyoming Area High School graduation ceremony. His so-called crime: The valedictorian went off script delivering a speech at last year’s ceremony, and Wyoming Area Secondary School Principal Jon Pollard ordered the audio cut. Clips of the incident went viral. It received national media attention, and Butera appeared on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” via Skype for an interview with the late-night TV talk show host. “People will bring it up everyone once and a while,” Butera said. “They’ll recognize me from being on Jimmy Kimmel. Not often, every once and a while.” Butera, 19, is home in West Pittston after finishing his freshman year at Villanova University. His major is quantitative finance, and last year’s Wyoming Area valedictorian continues to thrive academically. Please see SPEECH, Page A4

ADVE RTISE M E NT

It can happen at any age LOST County’s oldest overdose victim in 2017 was 75 BUT

LOVED

Life stories from a drug crisis Part 4 of a series

MORE ONLINE

Find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/.

READ MORE

Opioid addiction is common among seniors. Page A4

BY ERIC MARK StaFF Writer

Addiction can ruin or end a life at any age. Paul Sorokas was 75 when he died on April 1, 2017, the oldest person to die from a drug overdose in Luzerne County last year. Sorokas, a fun-loving but hard-working man known as “Bobo” who lived in Wilkes-Barre most of his life, did physical work, including a long tenure at the manufacturing company InterMetro. He suffered a serious back injury on the SOROKAS job about 25 years ago, according to his younger brother, Richard Sorokas. Surgeries failed to repair the damage, so doctors prescribed painkillers, his brother said.

“The surgery never fixed it,” Richard Sorokas said. “They prescribed opioids. ... They put him on pain medication.” That started Paul Sorokas on a path that ended with him lying in a hospital bed in early 2017, his system shutting down from the damage inflicted by years of heavy drug use, according to his brother. Shortly before Paul Sorokas died, the medical team trying to save his life told Richard Sorokas, “Your brother has so much stuff in him it’s unbelievable.” Richard Sorokas believed it, after watching his brother struggle with addiction for many years, he said. After Paul Sorokas died, Richard Sorokas gathered up all the drugs and medication his brother had stockpiled.

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A04] | 06/09/18

21:59 | BOONELAURA

LoCaL

A4 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2018

Opioid addiction common in seniors Ten people age 60 or older died from overdoses last year in Luzerne County.

NEED HELP?

Number of deaths

25

ashley, pa 18706 570-822-5145

570-846-2720 ■ miners medical 43 S. main St.

For more treatment options, go to citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid

MEDICATION-BASED TREATMENT CLINICS there are facilities where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy after trying inpatient drug rehabilitation. ■ medication-assisted treatment addiction Clinic geisinger South WilkesBarre COUNTY ASSISTANCE 25 Church St. the Luzerne County Drug Wilkes-Barre, pa 18701 and alcohol program can 570-808-3700 be reached at 570-826(Buprenorphine, Suboxone 8790. or naltrexone, Vivitrol) ■ miners medical CENTERS OF 43 S. main St. EXCELLENCE the pennsylvania Department ashley, pa 18706 of Health has recommended opens: 5:30 a.m. facilities around the state that 570-822-5145 are “ahead-of-the-curve when (methadone) ■ CHoiCeS it comes to substance use rear 307 Laird St. disorder treatment.” two in Luzerne County are: plains twp., pa 18702 opens: 6:15 a.m. ■ Clean Slate 570-408-9320 189 e. market St. (methadone) Wilkes-Barre, pa 18702

BY ERiC MaRk StaFF Writer

You are never too old to suf fer from addiction, especially addiction to opioids. That is the message from treatment specialists and professionals at all levels. The oldest person to die of an overdose in Luzerne County in 2017 was Paul Sorokas, who was 75. His brother said Sorokas fell into addiction after he hurt his back at work and was prescribed painkillers. When his doctors cut off his supply of prescription drugs, Sorokas struggled to medicate his pain with anything he could find. That is a common story, according to Steven Ross, administrator of the Luzerne County Drug and Alcohol program. Ten of the 151 overdose victims in the county in 2017 were age 60 or older. The increase of the rate of addiction in the elderly began about 20 years ago, after physicians started to treat pain “as a vital sign,” similar to heart rate or blood pressure, Ross said. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies were marketing opioid-based pain medication as nonaddictive, he said. That led to more and more pain management patients of all ages, but especially senior citizens, according to Ross. Some of those patients find they cannot get

IN A CRISIS Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570829-1341 or visit www. helpline-nepa.info. the state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLp).

enough prescription medication to ease their pain or feed their addiction, so they turn to street drugs such as heroin, he said. While there are no local prog rams specifically designed to help seniors treat addiction, older residents often take part in programs that are open to all ages, Ross said. According to the national Addiction Center website, drug abuse among the elderly is a rapidly growing health problem in the United States. Senior citizens are especially suscep-

tible to “the deteriorating effects of these substances” since their bodies do not metabolize drugs or alcohol as well as they could when younger, the website states. Drug addiction in the elderly can be hard to identify, since its symptoms can be similar to those of other disorders common among older people, such as diabetes, dementia and depression, according to the Addiction Center. Contact the writer: emark@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2117

2017 LUZERNE CoUNTY oVERDoSES

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in april and why there’s no age limit on addiction.

oLDEST: Effect of opioid painkillers took a toll From page a1

“It filled a 30-gallon bag with all different pills,” he said. “I found speed, OxyContin ... everything you can think of. He still had morphine stashed away.” Richard Sorokas said his brother’s problems grew more severe five or six years before he died, when Veterans Affairs doctors “cut him off ” from pain medication after they determined he had grown addicted. The grinding effect of the opioid painkillers, sometimes mixed with alcohol, eventually took such a toll on Paul Sorokas that he moved into a nursing home for his final days. The drugs ground down his brother’s mind and soul as well as his body, Richard Sorokas said. “For the last six months before he passed away he got suicidal tendencies, partly from withdrawal,” he said. Paul Sorokas, who was divorced, lived alone as he battled addiction in his later years, his brother said. Despite the tough end to Paul Sorokas’ life, Richard Sorokas remembers his brother as a good man who cared about his family and tried to help people. He was a standout athlete at Coughlin High School in the late 1950s and served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. In later years he enjoyed cooking, bowling, playing softball and rooting for the New York Yankees. Richard Sorokas said he has no problem discussing the addiction that took his brother’s life, and the searing pain it caused. He said he hopes that sharing his brother’s story might help someone else. “There is a crisis out there,” he said. Contact the writer: emark@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2117

a MoNTH’S ToLL: aPRiL

twelve people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in april 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ April 1: paul Sorokas, 76, from Wilkes-Barre. ■ April 1: male, 40, from the Back mountain. ■ April 2: male, 34, from the pittston area. ■ April 3: male, 55, from arizona.

■ April 5: Female, 39, from the Hazleton area. ■ April 15: Female, 56, from Blakeslee. ■ April 16: male, 61, from the West Side. ■ April 22: male, 34, from the pittston area. ■ April 26: male, 64, from the pittston area. ■ April 28: Female, 26, from the West Side. ■ April 28: male, 22, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ April 30: Female, 35, from White Haven.

HoW WE DiD iT

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

SPEECH: Reviewing process remains unchanged From page a1

“I got a 4.0 (grade point average). I did alright,” Butera said. “It was a really great experience. I love it there.” The president of Wyoming Area’s Class of 2017 said he plans to attend the 2018 Wyoming Area commencement Friday. “Yes, I will be there. I know some people,” he said. “Last year was my opportunity to reflect on my high school experience, and this year, it’s their turn. And I just encourage them to reflect on what their high school experience was like. I reflected on it mostly from a leadership development perspective. I know that’s not what a lot of high schoolers prioritize, but looking back to last year, it’s just a great time. It’s just a great time for reflection.” A ye a r a g o, Po l l a r d approached Butera to leave the stage at Sobeski Stadium, and his microphone went off just after Butera began to criticize school officials for being dictatorial. After graduation, Butera posted his entire speech on Facebook, including the ending his classmates and the crowd didn’t get to hear. “When he veered off of the speech he had practiced, I was obligated to act to ensure the remainder of Peter’s speech was not demeaning or derogatory to his classmates, the underclassmen, faculty, staff or administration,” Pollard said in a written statement issued after the story start-

GRaDUaTioN SCHEDULE ■ Crestwood: 2 p.m., today ■ Nanticoke Area: 6 p.m., monday ■ Hanover Area: 5 p.m., Wednesday ■ West Side Career and Technology Center: 6 p.m., thursday

■ Meyers: 9:30 a.m., Friday ■ Coughlin: 11 a.m., Friday ■ GAR: 1 p.m., Friday ■ Dallas: 6 p.m., Friday ■ Northwest Area: 6 p.m., Friday ■ Wyoming Area: 7 p.m., Friday

SaLUTiNG THE CLaSS oF 2018

on June 28, the Citizens’ Voice will publish a special section celebrating the area’s high school graduates. Look for lists of graduates, photos and more.

MoRE oNLiNE

Watch peter Butera’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel on our website, www.citizensvoice.com. ed becoming national news. Pollard added he would do it again “the next time a student attempts to hijack the ceremony for their own agenda.” Right before the sound was cut, Butera said student government officers have no influence in how the school operates and “the authoritative nature that a few administrators and school members have prevents students from developing as true leaders.” Wyoming Area Superintendent Janet Serino met with Butera last year a week after the graduation ceremony. This week, Serino said Butera’s message ultimately had a positive effect at the high school because lines of communication between administrators and students have improved. The process of writing and reviewing commencement speeches has not changed in the last year, Serino said.

was a feeling that sometimes students weren’t heard when they had concerns. We are opening the doors to more conversation, so there is not a wall bet the administration and them. And the wall has fallen down.” Other area high schools also work with seniors tasked with delivering commencement speeches. “We let them know if there is anything inappropriate. They submit their papers,” Hanover Area High School Principal Daniel Malloy said. “We have had a couple go off script over the years. It’s usually a sentence or a blurb. It wasn’t anything that required cutting off the microphone or pulling a student off the stage.” Dallas High School Principal Jason Rushmer said he reviews all graduation speeches. “There is no policy on what is said within the speech and no policy on if a student goes off script; the families, faculty and administration all work with the g raduation speakers to frame the event and the purpose of their respective speeches,” Rushmer said in an email. At Lake-Lehman High School, “student speeches are read by a committee of English teachers prior to commencement to provide assistance as needed,” Assistant to the Superintendent Tracey L. Liparela said.

“No, the protocols have always been working with the class adviser in tandem with the principal,” she said. “The one change has been opening a dialogue. We have done more meetings with students.” The style of this year’s graduation gowns will be a little different, and that decision was the result of talking to seniors, Serino said. She added she has met with many students this year to discuss safety concerns. Those concerns heightened after the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and a day-long lockdown at the Wyoming Area Secondary Center due to the discovery of a threatening message found March 15 inside a restroom. “I just had an email from a senior who wants me to give her diploma to her (at t h e c o m m e n c e m e n t ) Contact the writer: because she felt close to mbuffer@citizensvoice.com me,” Serino said. “There 570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer

DaVe SCHerBeNCo / StaFF pHotograpHer

art for the Riverfront

Emma Padilla, 6, works on her part of the banner entitled ‘Take a Trip on The Susquehanna Without Getting Your Feet Wet’ on Saturday at the Barnes and Noble in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The banner, sponsored by the Luzerne County Riverfront Parks Committee, will be displayed during the upcoming Riverfest events June 22 to 24. Saturday’s event at Barnes and Noble was overseen by local artist Jan Lokuta.

CoURT NoTES MORTGAGES ■ robert Watson et al. to american advisors group, $186,000; Central avenue, Salem twp. ■ robert Watson et al. to Commissioner of Housing and Urban Development, $186,000; Central avenue, Salem twp. ■ gary J. Casale et al. to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $164,461; Dogwood road, Butler twp. ■ ray L. Knaub et al. to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $152,884; Narrow Street, West Wyoming. ■ Lynelle Kochel to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $192.718; South main road, Wright twp. ■ richard Cowan et al. to

mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $100,600; pond Hill road, Conyngham twp. ■ Jeffrey L. mcgovern et al. to U.S. Bank, $88,842; Deer run Drive, Wright twp. ■ Verdi J. Disesa et al. to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $344,000; North mountain road, Lake twp. ■ robert N. Uitz Jr. to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $157,102; Stone Church road, Salem twp. ■ Christine m. Johnson to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $83,333; e. 2nd St., Salem twp. ■ misty Donnelly et al. to mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $154,156; Linda Drive, Larksville.


WB_VOICE/PAGES [A06] | 06/16/18

22:29 | BOONELAURA

LOCAL

A6 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2018

Overdose victim struggled with pain before his death BY JAMES HALPIN Staff writer

2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES

25

Number of deaths

EDWARDSVILLE — The last years of Jack Zakrewski’s life were tough. After suffering a heart a t t a c k y e a r s e a r l i e r, Zakrewski, 62, had been on disability toward the end of his life and struggled with back pain as well. “I know he was in a lot of pain, because he complained to me a lot of times,” his uncle John D. Je r e m y said. “He said his quality of life ZAKREWSKI was bad.” W h e n Zakrewski died of a multi-drug overdose on May 20, 2017, he joined 150 others who died of overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017 — a year with a record-high number of drug deaths. A Wilkes-Barre native who was raised in the Heights section, Zakrewski experienced hardship as a young man. When he was about 21 years old, his mother died, his uncle said. Zakrewski’s father had left the family, leaving his grandmother to look after him. “That bothered him,” Jeremy said. Zakrewski worked years ago at a foundry in Berwick and then did odd jobs prior to having the heart attack that resulted in him being placed on disability, Jeremy said. Zakrewski’s obituary described him as “a kind spirit known for his softspoken respect for humanity and formidable dreadlocks.” Zakrewski loved animals and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels, and had a love of music that brought him to hundreds of concerts. He attended Woodstock in 1969, saw reggae artist Bob Marley live and followed around the Grateful Dead, according to his obituary. “He was into records and that kind of stuff. He liked music,” Jeremy said. Zakrewski’s uncle said he wasn’t sure what caused him to turn to drugs, but that he thought it might have begun because of the pain he was in. “I don’t know if he started using drugs after (the hear t attack),” Jeremy said. “Maybe the doctors didn’t give him any more pain medicine. I’m not sure.” Court records suggest that Zakrewski struggled with substance abuse issues for some time. He had a drunken driving

20 15 10 5 JAN

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in May and why neighborhood drug treatment centers do more good than harm.

LOST BUT

LOVED

Life stories from a drug crisis Part 5 of a series

‘I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was, I guess. I was kind of shocked when he died.’ JOHN D. JEREMY Nephew

arrest in Dallas Twp. in 2006, and he was convicted of drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession in 2009. In that case, Edwardsville police found him in possession of a small amount of marijuana, a glass pipe and more than $10,000 in cash during a traffic stop. He pleaded guilty to possessing drug paraphernalia in 2013 in a Kingston case, and at the time of his death he was awaiting trial on charges of drug possession and drug parapher nalia possession stemming from a traffic stop that took place three months before he died. In that case, Kingston police alleged they observed a rubber band consistent those used to package heroin in the vehicl e. Po l i c e a l s o fo u n d Zakrewski in possession of a straw with cocaine residue on it and a bag of cocaine, according to the charges. A f t e r h i s d e at h , t h e police also removed drugs from Zakrewski’s home, according to his uncle. Jeremy said it had been hard to see his nephew in so much pain during the final years of his life. “I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was, I guess,” Jeremy said. “I was kind of shocked when he died.” Contact the writer: jhalpin@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2058

COURT NOTES MORTGAGES ■ andrea Lynn Deangelo et al. to Manufacturers & traders trust Company, $100,000; Lower Demunds road, Dallas twp. ■ alexandra Matulewski et al. to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $135,990; river road, Hanover twp. ■ James f. Larson to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $102,803; east franklin Street, Kingston twp. ■ Joseph r. David et al. to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $78,452; Hanover twp. ■ Donna Yocum et al. to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $260,000; evergreen Drive, Hazle twp. ■ Marian D. Burrell to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $151,515; terrace Drive, wright twp. ■ Lavan C. Bell to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $135,199; Kingston. ■ James Mack et al. to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $294,057; Summit View Drive, fairview twp. ■ Sonia Soler to Citizens Bank, $94,261; Peace Street, Hazleton.

APR

■ Steven J. esposito to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $216,800; idlewood Drive, Dallas twp. ■ robert C. Slusarcyk to Cross Valley federal Credit Union, $82,000; Nuangola road, rice twp. ■ David robert Hoffman to eagle rock resort Company, $70,811; Hazle twp. ■ aida Murillo-Castelo et al. to Cross Valley federal Credit Union, $80,000; west 10th Street, Hazleton. ■ Gerald L. Bockowski et al. to M&t Bank, $324,000; Deer Park road, Lehman twp. ■ Gerald L. Bockowski et al. to Commissioner of Housing and Urban Development, $324,000; Deer Park road, Lehman twp. ■ Debra a. Hornick et al. to Mortgage electronic registration Systems inc. et al., $128,866; Curtis Street, Pittston. ■ Michael Valjan Sr. et al. to PNC Bank, $100,000; Beech Court, Hazle twp. ■ Louis D. Ney et al. to PNC Bank, $116,700; North Market Street, Salem twp. ■ David ferrey et al. to PNC Bank, $206,000; Bear Swamp road, ross twp. ■ Carl e. Dines et al. to PNC Bank, $100,000; reynolds Street, Kingston.

A MONTH’S TOLL — MAY thirteen people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in May 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ May 3: Male, 58, from the wilkes-Barre area. ■ May 6: Male, 40, from the Pittston area. ■ May 10: Male, 43, from white Haven. ■ May 10: Male, 23, from the Noxen area. ■ May 18: Male, 42, from

the wilkes-Barre area. ■ May 19: Male, 25, from the Hazleton area. ■ May 20: John Zakrewski, 62, from edwardsville. ■ May 20: Male, 29, from the Hazleton area. ■ May 24: female, 20, from the Plymouth area. ■ May 26: Male, 29, from the wilkes-Barre area. ■ May 27: female, 39, from Drums. ■ May 28: Male, 40, hometown unknown. ■ May 28: Male, 31, from the Hazleton area.

HOW WE DID IT

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. we are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

MORE ONLINE

find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid.

NEED HELP? IN A CRISIS Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-829-1341 or visit www.helpline-nepa.info. the state has a similar program, “Pa Get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLP).

ashley, Pa 18706 570-822-5145

MEDICATION-BASED TREATMENT CLINICS there are facilities where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy after trying inpatient drug rehabilitation. ■ Medication-assisted treatment addiction Clinic Geisinger South wilkesCOUNTY ASSISTANCE Barre the Luzerne County Drug 25 Church St. and alcohol Program can wilkes-Barre, Pa 18701 be reached at 570-826570-808-3700 8790. (Buprenorphine, Suboxone or naltrexone, Vivitrol) CENTERS OF EXCEL■ Miners Medical LENCE the Pennsylvania Department 43 S. Main St. of Health has recommended ashley, Pa 18706 facilities around the state that Opens: 5:30 a.m. are “ahead-of-the-curve when 570-822-5145 (Methadone) it comes to substance use ■ CHOiCeS disorder treatment.” two in Luzerne County are: rear 307 Laird St. Plains twp., Pa 18702 ■ Clean Slate Opens: 6:15 a.m. 189 e. Market St. 570-408-9320 wilkes-Barre, Pa 18702 (Methadone) for more treatment 570-846-2720 options, go to citizens■ Miners Medical voiceblogs.com/opioid. 43 S. Main St.

Treatment centers focus of debate BY JAMES HALPIN Staff writer

there was no statistically significant difference between the areas around the treatment centers and convenience stores. “In conclusion, (drug treatment centers) have an unfairly poor reputation as being magnets for crime and a threat to community safety that is not backed up by empirical evidence,” wrote the researchers, who were from Johns Hopkins University. “By contrast, other community businesses that have a more pronounced magnetic effect on crime are often solicited by communities to locate within their neighborhoods.” Harlen said that while he understands the concern neighborhood residents might have about treatment facilities, he thinks the good the centers do for patients “far outweighs” the negatives. “Is there the potential for something to happen? Sure,” Harlen said. “But I guarantee you that 99.9 percent of the people that come out of those doors are going to be much better than when they walked in there.” Luzerne County currently has just two methadone clinics — Miners Medical and CHOICES in Plains Twp. — but there are a number of other programs that offer treatment, including other medications such as Suboxone. Still, Harlen said he doesn’t think it’s enough to meet the need. “There are a ton of facilities available to help people with addiction. There’s a lot of resources out there. Will we ever have enough? No, I don’t think so,” Harlen said. “I think if five rehabs were to open today, it wouldn’t be enough.”

WILKES-BARRE — Most everyone agrees that Luzerne County is in the grip of a deadly opioid epidemic that is killing off residents by the dozens. But when it comes to treating the very people who are dying, most everyone wants that care to happen somewhere other than where they live. When the Miners Medical Center opened as a methadone clinic in Ashley, residents began circulating a petition to shut it down and the borough zoning officer sent a cease-anddesist letter alleging violation of the borough zoning ordinance. Earlier this month, a similar scene unfolded at an Exeter Twp. Board of Supervisors meeting, where residents came out in force to oppose turning the shuttered Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School into a drug treatment center. Jason Harlen, chief executive of Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services, said the phenomenon is common for drug treatment centers — residents are worried about crime and property values. “It’s a definite legitimate concern for the individuals who reside there,” Harlen said. “Unfortunately, those people that are actually addicted are already in their backyards. So it’s kind of a conundrum.” A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs examined the phenomenon by comparing violent crime rates around drug treatment centers, liquor stores, convenience stores and corner stores in Baltimore. The study found that violent crime was “significantly higher” around liquor stores and Contact the writer: corner stores than around the jhalpin@citizensvoice.com treatment centers, and that 570-821-2058

Snakes on display at annual Noxen Rattlesnake Roundup BY COLLEEN MCALEER Staff writer

NOXEN — For ty-two snakes, half of them timber rattlers, made an appearance Saturday at the annual Rattlesnake Roundup, and carnivalgoers backed up over a mile at the entrance to see the guests of honor. Stephanie Crispell, from Beaumont, has been coming to the roundup every year since she was a baby. “I like seeing the snakes, catching up with friends, and the food is always great. I’m too afraid to hunt though. My dad would take all my brothers out, but I’m too scared,” she said. “It’s kind of cool here, but I’m glad the snakes are over there,” said her friend Katie Callahan also from Beaumont. Inside the snake pen were trained handlers from the Noxen Volunteer Fire Department, as well as volunteers. Dallas student Shawn Hen-

COLLeeN MCaLeer / Staff PHOtO

Kevin Voelker, a Wilkes-Barre City firefighter and snake hunter, holds a tubed snake for closer inspection. ninger Jr. is a volunteer who has been coming since he was born. Also in the snake area was Keystone Reptile Club educator Bill Wheeler. He was handling the snakes in tubes, and talking to bystanders around the roped-off areas about the different attributes of the reptiles. Wheeler discussed snake

do and what to look for when you see a rattler in the wild.” Fire Chief Lew Hackling was pleased with the turnout. He said there was a 10-20 percent increase in registered hunters over last year. “In the wet weather we have had this year, the snakes have already started to shed, and are coming out a little later,” he said. “The weather this weekend has been great though and we are having successful hunts.” “We drove almost two hours to get here, from Roaring Branch,” said Joyce Seeley, who has brought her family of six kids to Noxen each year for the past five years. The roundup continues through tonight, where prizes will be given in multiple categories. Other attractions continue at the fire carnival, with a fireworks display around 9:30 p.m.

head shape, diamond or round, as well as eyes, and how to determine if a snake is venomous. “The snakes just want to be left alone,” Wheeler said. “They will usually go the other way when we walk towards them (in the pen). If you provoke them, you’ll get bit. They are generally harmless. We Contact the writer: want to teach people what to cmcaleer@wcexaminer.com


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PA. BUdGET

Early deal may be a milestone for deficits, school aid

$32.7B election year spending plan holds line on taxes. BY MARC LEVY ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature have wrapped up budget legislation a week before Pennsylvania state government’s new fiscal year wOLf star ts, an

about-face after three years of protracted partisan fights over spending. Besides that, the budget perhaps achieves milestones in overcoming deficits and cuts to education aid, while lawmakers were animated by the Florida high school shooting in February.

MARK MORAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lisa Bertolette touches the urn containing the ashes of her daughter, Nikki Lee Bertolette, who died of a drug overdose in June 2017.

PRIVATE PAIN

The bottom line The $32.7 billion plan holds the line on state taxes, and increases authorized spending by about $700 million through the state’s main bank account, or 2 percent above the current year’s enacted budget of $32 billion. The spending increase goes primarily to public schools, prisons, social services and pensions. However, roughly $900 million will be spent outside of the state’s main bank account to underwrite human services costs, and critics say moving the spending off-budget masks the true cost of state operations and the true increase in state spending.

One victim’s story became clear, after her death BY JAMES HALPIn STAFF WRITER

FREELAND — Inside a nondescript home on Chestnut Street, the living space has been transformed into a shrine to a mother’s grief, a constant reminder that Nikki Lee Bertolette died hiding a terrible secret. Dozens of smiling pictures of Bertolette form a makeshift mural on the wall behind the living room sofa, looking across to more photos that stare forever back from a glass display case adorned with dried tie-dyed roses from her funeral. The ashes of the 26-year-old, who died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl on June 17, 2017, lie in a marble urn draped with a white ribbon and bronze crucifix in the

dining room, paired with a picture of a blue-haired Nikki, smiling coyly. Her mother, Lisa Bertolette, said she never understood why Nikki turned to drugs — until it was too late. “I called the cops on her many times just to lock her up, just to protect her nIKKI LEE from (overdosing), BERTOLETTE you know?” Lisa said. “Because it was coming. We just didn’t know when.” Nikki was born in Los Angeles in 1990. Her father, Roderick Bertolette, was a caring dad but an abusive husband, Lisa said. When Nikki was about 18 months, Nik-

ki’s mater nal g randparents bought them plane tickets and they moved back east to live with them, never to hear from Roderick again. Life was good at her grandparents’ house. Nikki had a big backyard, all-terrain vehicles, dozens of Barbie dolls and what seemed like “two of everything,” Lisa joked. “We really spoiled her,” she said. Lisa eventually decided to get her own place, and the family moved to Freeland when Nikki was around 10 years old. At some point, Nikki grew curious and wanted to learn about Roderick, the father she no longer remembered. Please see LOVEd, Page A5

LOST BUT

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Life stories from a drug crisis Part of a series

OnLInE EXTRAS

what wolf got, or not

Find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid.

Wolf, who is seeking a second term in November’s election, floated his fourth and most modest budget proposal in February. Please see BUdGET, Page A6

Few options for those looking to cool off Only 3 public pools in county offer daily rates for swimming. BY STEVE MOCARSKY STAFF WRITER

As temperatures continue to climb with the official arrival of summer, Luzerne County residents are looking for some fun places to cool off. For those who don’t have their own swimming pool, don’t want to pay an annual membership fee at a private pool, don’t want to drive outside the county and don’t want to risk the dangers of swimming holes, options are pretty slim. There are three public pools in the county that offer daily rates for swimming — the Kingston Community

Swimming Pool, the Forty Fort Community Pool and the pool at Frances Slocum State Park in Kingston Twp. Daily passes range in price from about $6 to $10, with discounts for residents of Kingston and Forty Fort at those pools, and for campers at Frances Slocum. All three pools also sell seasonpassesandoffer lower rates for later arrivals. For folks without their own transportation — or who want to help protect the environment — the Luzerne County Transportation Authority is again offering low-cost bus rides to and from the 1,035-acre Frances Slocum State Park on weekdays and Saturdays. Please see SwIM, Page A6

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LOCAL

SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

BY JAMES HALPIN Staff writer

HOW WE DID IT

her daughter turning to prostitution. During the last few months of Nikki’s life, she appeared to haveturnedthingsaround.She had traded in the heroin for Suboxone, a prescription medicine that treats addiction and withdrawal symptoms. She recently landed a job as a sales rep for a subsidiary of PPL Corp. She talked about buying the “house of her dreams,” her mother said. At long last, Nikki appeared to be happy. “Nothing can stop me,” she wrote April 24, 2017, after announcing the new job on Facebook. “I’m all the way up.” But that same month, another ex-boyfriend began turning up at the house, leaving presents of fake jewelry and bringing temptation to Nikki’s doorstep, according to her mother. “She wasn’t strong enough tosayno.That’swhatitis,”Lisa said. “That’s what it comes downto.Nooneforcedhertodo it.Butif hedidn’tcomearound, she would have been still on the path to recovery.” The ex-boyfriend was a “wannabe chemist” who was tinkering with heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug with which her daughter had no experience, she said. But what exactly happened at the end of her daughter’s life on June 17, 2017, remains a mystery. The conflicting stories and denials of Nikki’s friends made it all but impossible to piece together the truth, she said. “I wish I could take them on the `Maury Show’ or `Steve Wilkos’ and give them lie-detector tests, you know?” she said. “Because they’re all lying.” What she knows for sure is that she last saw her daughter

COUNTY ASSISTANCE the Luzerne County Drug and alcohol program can be reached at 570-826-8790.

CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE the pennsylvania Department of Health has recommended facilities around the state that are “ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to substance use disorder treatment.” two in Luzerne County are: Clean Slate 189 e. market St. wilkes-Barre, pa 18702 570-846-2720 miners medical

43 S. main St. ashley, pa. 18706 570-822-5145

MEDICATION-BASED TREATMENT CLINICS

25

Number of deaths

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. we are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

Contact the writer: jhalpin@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2058

(Buprenorphine, Suboxone or naltrexone, Vivitrol) miners medical 43 S. main St. ashley, pa 18706 opens: 5:30 a.m. 570-822-5145 (methadone)

there are facilities where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy CHoiCeS after trying inpatient drug rear 307 Laird St. rehabilitation. plains twp., pa 18702 opens: 6:15 a.m. medication-assisted treat570-408-9320 ment addiction Clinic (methadone) geisinger South wilkes-Barre for more treatment options, 25 Church St. go to citizensvoiceblogs. wilkes-Barre, pa 18701 com/opioid. 570-808-3700

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Some of them feel relief at knowing that their loved one’s struggle and pain are over, she said. “I know with myself, initially I kind of felt a relief that he’s no longer struggling,” Coolbaugh said. “But that didn’t last long. Then it came to anger, like, ‘Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t he be one of the ones that was saved?’” Coolbaugh said those who have lost family members should grieve in their own way. Surviving relatives should do what they need to do to get through their grief and not listen if people tell them to move on with their lives. “Every grief is different,” Coolbaugh said. “Don’t tell anybody tell you how you should be grieving.” For information about the meetings, contact Coolbaugh at carolcoolbaugh324@gmail. com or 570-991-7199. Contact the writer: jhalpin@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2058

2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES

20 15 10 5 JAN

aliveasLisaleftforwork—providinghomecaretoaresidenta few blocks away — shortly before 2 p.m. that day. Lisa told her daughter she was making meatloaf and to be home for dinner. “She said, ‘OK,’” Lisa Bertolette recalled. “I said, ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘I love you too.’” Around 6:05 p.m., Lisa Bertolette returned home and found her daughter face down on her bedroom floor. She picked Nikki up and put her on the bed, tried to perform CPR. It wasn’t the first time, but this time was different. As Lisa blew into her daughter’s mouth, it felt like the air wasn’t flowing. She called 911 and continued chest compressions on her daughter’s lifeless body as she waited for help. Authorities found a needle mark on Nikki’s leg and two prepared needles on her bed, Lisa said. Later, as Lisa was going through her daughter’s belongings, she found some notes Nikki had written during one of her stints in rehab. The assignment had been to list the good and bad things in her life. What Lisa saw on the list floored her. Nikki had written that she had been raped by two guys during a party in the woods near White Haven when she was 13 years old. A year later, she had been raped again at another party, she had written. “She never told me. I don’t know why she never told me. She kept it in and didn’t tell anybody,” Lisa said. “I never understood why she was so unhappy.”

GET HELP IN A CRISIS

mourning the loss of overdose victims. The group meets the second and f o u r t h Wednesday of each month and provides support to parCOOLBAUGH ents and other relatives of those who have lost loved ones to drugs. “There’s no judgment,” Coolbaugh said. “We’re there, we just support each other.” Some members have been coming for years, while others cycle through, she said. The surviving relatives go through the stages of grief — but not always in the same order and sometimes more than once, she said. “There’s denial,” Coolbaugh said. “You can’t believe it happened even though every one of them will tell you that they’ve been waiting for the dreaded phone call. Because you know that’s a possibility, but even when it happens it’s still a shock.”

WILKES-BARRE — After Carol Coolbaugh’s son died of an overdose in 2009, she tried attending bereavement meetings to help with her grief. But listening to others talk about loved ones dying of natural causes or accidents or illnesses didn’t strike the right chord for Coolbaugh, 67, of West Pittston, whose son Erik died of an overdose following a lifetime battle with addiction to drugs, including heroin. “You’ve got somebody that’s mourning a kid who did everything right and was going to school and got hit by a car, or died of cancer,” Coolbaugh said. “I’m not saying they did judge, but it was very difficult to talk about your kid who didn’t do all the things that they should do.” As a result of her experience, Coolbaugh started the local chapter of Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, or GRASP, to help others

from page a1

Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-8291341 or visit www.helplinenepa.info. the state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLp).

THE CITIZENS' VOICE A5

Bonded through grief

LOVED: ‘She never told me’ They tried looking him up, but couldn’t find him. Then their search took them to the internet and the news accounts of what happened. The afternoon of July 16, 2001, Roderick Bertolette, an ex-con covered in tattoos of devils, skulls and swastikas, was planning to sell an undercover informant two pounds of methamphetamine in a motel room, according to an account in the Fresno Bee. When police moved in to make the arrest, Roderick Bertolette, who was high on meth, pulled a .38-caliber handgun from his waistband and opened fire, the Bee reported. He shot Fresno police officer Julian Vinton in the left leg, left hand and left jaw before police returned fire and killed him. The news of her father’s death was a disappointment for Nikki. “We were sad, because she wanted to meet him,” Lisa said. Over the course of her short life, Nikki progressed from drinking booze when she was around 15 years old to cocaine and, on occasion, methamphetamine, her mother said. Court recordsshowshefacedasteady series of driving under the influence and drug paraphernalia possession charges that began in 2009 and continued until a few months before her death. Buthermothersaiditwasn’t until Nikki joined the company of a man with a drug habit and reputation for using girls for their homes and money that she started shooting heroin. “He preys on them and they fallforit,”shesaid.“Shealways wanted to help somebody. She had a heart of gold.” On Aug. 8, 2013, the man, who at the time was Nikki’s boyfriend, crashed on East Butler Drive in Butler Twp. Nikki sustained severe facial lacerations, and testing revealed a cocktail of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and Xanax in the driver’s blood, according to police. A few days later, in a hotel room, the boyfriend told Nikki to try a shot of heroin, according to her mother. “He knows if he puts this needle in her arm, she’s going to become a junkie for life. And sohedidthat,”Lisasaid.“Since then, she’s just been struggling. On and off, in and out of rehabs.” As a result of the crash, Nikki got a $100,000 insurance settlement to cover expenses, including plastic surgery that sheneededforhernose,according to her mother. She used some of the money to buy the house she shared with Lisa in Freeland, but she blew the rest on drugs, hotel rooms and expensive clothes. Nikki’s downfall was years in the making. Lisa tried to strike a fine balance between helping and enabling her daughter. She would bring Nikki to rehab and hound her to stay clean, yet she also gave her money because she didn’t want

22:51 | DONLINKEVI

FEB

MAR

APR

MAY

JUNE JULY

AUG

SEPT

OCT

NOV

DEC

THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in June and bereavement groups to help those who have lost loved ones to overdoses.

JUNE’S LOST

the pittston area. ■ June 1: female, 36, thirteen people died of from the wilkes-Barre/plains drug overdoses in Luzerne twp. area. County in June 2017, accord■ June 4: male, 38, from ing to the county coroner’s mountain top. office. the Citizens’ Voice is ■ June 7: female, 28, naming only those whose famfrom mountain top. ilies agreed to be interviewed. ■ June 10: female, 30, ■ June 1: male, 30, from from the pittston area. the wilkes-Barre area. ■ June 12: female, 47, ■ June 1: male, 38, from from mountain top.

■ June 13: male, 24, from the west Side. ■ June 17: Nikki Bertolette, 26, from freeland. ■ June 19: female, 41, hometown unknown. ■ June 24: male, 29, from the Hazleton area. ■ June 27: male, 32, from the wilkes-Barre area. ■ June 29: male, 37, from the Back mountain.

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STATE IN CRISIS

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Looking for hope amid drug epidemic

Life stories from a drug crisis Part of a series

Family left to question if forced rehab could have saved addict

ASSOCIATED PRESS

America is in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic in its history and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter. In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the US, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Opioid deaths made up about half of all drug overdoses in the state that year. The death toll from opioids abuse has climbed so high that the governor’s office this year issued an emergency declaration. That designation calls for increased coordination and tracking of the work of health and safety agencies dealing with the public health emergency. Newsrooms have been documenting the epidemic’s soaring numbers for close to two decades. Now, a special project marshalling their combined strength is focusing on what Pennsylvanians around the state are doing to try to reverse this most deadly trend. This week, newspapers, websites, TV and radio stations are using their platforms to spotlight the ways every region of the state is confronting this immense challenge. Words, videos and photos shared by journalists covering more than 50 counties outline a wealth of strategies and initiatives that are showing promise. These are stories of community support, outreach, care and prevention. All are about hope.

MORE ONLINE For video from the series, visit www.citizensvoice.com.

MORE INSIDE Local mothers connected by a fate none of them wanted. Page A6

BY BILL WELLOCK STAFF WRITER

vania. The first was in Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital. Geisinger’s MAT clinics are staffed by seven full-time employees per site — including a board-certified addiction physician, advanced practitioner, addiction-trained clinical pharmacist and a dedicated case-management staff.

LUZERNE — John Havrilla knew his younger brother, Gary Havrilla, was not going to save himself. He was addicted to the drugs that killed him on July 1, 2017. The coroner found a mix of opioids, heroin and cocaine in his body, John Havrilla said. “I’ve seen it with other people,” he said. A month or three months of rehab didn’t help. Once, when his brother was at a hospital’s drug crisis center,JohnHavrilla asked for help. Was there any way they GARY HAVRILLA could force Gary into rehab, especially long-term treatment? They couldn’t. And if they could, can you imagine how many users would be there? Who would pay for it? After Gary recovered from the acute overdose, the hospital released him. “A couple months later, he’s gone,” John Havrilla said. Gary Havrilla was born May 14, 1981, and grew up in Plains Twp. He played sports as a kid. He liked to crack jokes. Havrilla began working in the restaurant industry after he left high school. He worked at various local restaurants, including the Woodlands, Bob Evans and Rodano’s.

Please see TREATMENT, Page A6

Please see LOST, Page A7

LOS ANGELES TIMES FILE

Flexibility key for patients at treatment center BY BOB KALINOWSKI STAFF WRITER

One of the newest treatment centers to combat the opioid crisis in Luzerne County is the MedicationAssisted Treatment Addiction Clinic at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre. The facility is similar to a methadone clinic, but uses buprenorphine (Suboxone) or naltrexone (Vivitrol) to help suppress withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids. Unlike methadone, those drugs can be administered in an office setting or prescribed to take home. Additionally, patients don’t have to show up every day like a methadone clinic. Each client’s routine is different. Since opening in September, the MAT clinic has seen 278 patients and about 60 percent of those them are still with the program today. “We are saving lives and doing good in the community,” said Jor-

SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS dan Barbour, director of addiction medication for Geisinger Health System. “Patients are coming to us and we hear this sometimes, they are saying we are perceived as quote unquote ‘a stricter program,’” Barbour said. The MAT clinic at Geisinger South, located on the fourth floor of the medical arts building, was Geisinger’s second to open in Pennsyl-

ADVE RTISE M E NT

Rivals turned friends

$

First Greater Nanticoke Area class to celebrate 50th reunion BY BOB KALINOWSKI STAFF WRITER

Former bitter rivals, the Nanticoke and Newport T w p. s c h o o l d i s t r i c t s merged for the 1968 campaign, but students still went to high school in different towns. Though they didn’t interact during the school day, they played sports and cheered under the same banner — as Nanticoke Trojans — and immediately became an athletic powerhouse. Nearly 300 students from Nanticoke City and New-

port Twp. graduated together in June 1968 as the firstever class of Greater Nanticoke Area, but they remained divided. They even published separate yearbooks and ordered different class rings. For decades, they continued the segregation by holding separate reunions. But that changed 10 years ago when, faced with dwindling participation, the two factions of Greater Nanticoke Area’s Class of 1968 held a joint 40th reunion. Class members are now busy planning their 50th

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Caroline Pawlush Brozena of Newport Twp. and Bill Norkitis of Nanticoke, members of Greater Nanticoke Area’s inaugural Class of 1968, show off separate class rings ordered for Newport Twp. and Nanticoke students that year. reunion — the first group “Nanticoke/Newport High from the school district to School” reunion. reach that mark. To be inclusive, they are calling it the Please see REUNION, Page A13

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A06] | 06/30/18

19:19 | BOONELAURA

OPIOID CRISIS: STATE OF EMERGENCY

A6 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2018

Local mothers share a bond no one wants BY JILL WHALEN STAFF WRITER

BUTLER TWP. — They are women connected by a fate none of them wanted. Together, they are trying to accept it. All of them lost a child or a family member to a drug overdose. They call themselves “Moms of Cherished Angels.” In addition to offering support to one another, they’re helping individuals battling drug addictions. The women began meeting last autumn at the Butler Twp. home of Judy Provanzo, who lost her son, Michael Provanzo, to an accidental overdose in August. While there, they share a meal, sometimes a dessert. They openly talk about their losses and their feelings. “We understand one another,” Provanzo said. “There are times we’ll say, ‘Did you get out of bed today?’” Losing a loved one is one thing. Losing a child another. But losing a child to addiction, Provanzo said, is a nightmare. Provanzo and her hus-

THE CITIZENS’ VOICE

Lisa Bertolette holds a photo of her daughter, Nikki, who passed away in June 2017 from a drug overdose. Bertolette is a member of the Moms of Cherished Angels group. band, Joseph Provanzo, decided to write about Michael’s struggle with addiction in his obituary. “We do not want his death to be in vain,” they wrote about the 22 year-old’s passing. “Michael did not want to be an addict. His demons

were more than he could handle. Addiction is a disease and does not discriminate.” They also wrote in the obituary, “Many loved ones did everything they could to get him to stop but the drugs won their battle.”

Provanzo began receiving supportive calls and cards soon thereafter. Some were from mothers who had also lost a child to addiction — and that’s how the group started to meet. “We’re kind of like a sisterhood,” said Patti

Goralewski, Freeland, who lost her daughter, Jayne Baran in 2016. A few weeks into their meetings, the women decided to fill backpacks with toiletries and donate them to those entering rehabilitation centers. “We decided we wanted to do something to keep our children’s memories alive and help others suffering with this horrible disease,” Provanzo said. With the packages of toothpaste, shampoo, notebooks and more, they include notes about their own children’s struggles with drugs. In the note she encloses, Provanzo writes, “The day Mikey died a part of me and his father died with him. I’m sharing this with you in hopes it helps you along your jour ney. Mikey always thought he had his addiction under control and this wouldn’t happen to him,” she writes. “If you’re feeling like you want to give up, please think of Mikey and how my heart is breaking not having him. Remember you are loved and you can do this one day at a time.”

Lisa Bertolette, another member of the Moms of Cherished Angels, lost her daughter, Nikki, in June 2017. Nikki, she wrote, was in and out of rehabilitation centers for four years. She had been doing well until she relapsed. “I miss her every day. I’ve cried every single day since June 2017,” Bertolette wrote. Kim Janeczek of Kline Twp. included a note about her son, Matthew, who was 21 when he died in July 2017. “He had a heart of gold. He helped so many people in the short time he was here,” she wrote. “If we can save just one person, it’s worth it,” she said of the note and the backpack donations, which have been distributed to recovery centers across the state. Compiling the backpacks and the weekly meetings are things the women look forward to. “Everybody is different and everybody grieves differently. We get to different places in the process at different times. But if we didn’t have this every Tuesday, I’d be in a loony bin,” Provanzo said.

Initiative aims to prevent addiction relapses Wyoming and Susquehanna counties launching Recovery Support Centers. BY TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER STAFF WRITER

Wyoming County Human Services Director Michael Donahue has seen it hundreds of times. A drug or alcohol addict gets clean at a treatment facility then returns to the same environment and relapses. A new initiative in the drug and alcohol treatment community may help prevent those relapses.

Wyoming and Susquehanna counties soon will become the first in the region to host Recovery Support Centers — facilities that offer comprehensive support services and recreational activities to help recovering addicts abandon their old habits and transition to a new, sober lifestyle. Finding new recreational activities to replace the destructive behaviors is among the major challenges people in recovery face, Donahue said. Recovery centers provide them a safe place to socialize with others facing the same challenges. “Our goal is to give people who are in recovery a place they can go and meet other people who share their hopes and experiences with each

other and support one another, giving them a stronger link to the recovery process,” Donahue said. The centers are a project of the Northeast Behavioral Health Care Consortium, a nonprofit organization that manages behavioral health programs for the state’s Medicaid program. The consortium first proposed opening the centers in 2016. It sent out request for proposals seeking organizations interested in operating them, but got only a handful of responses, said Jim Gallagher, executive director. The organization reissued the request and recently awarded the first contract to Trehab Community Services in Montrose. They plan to

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BUTCH COMEGYS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Michael Arcangeletti displays the information card he produced listing resources for people using prescription opioid drugs.

Resource cards list help for addicts BY JON O’CONNELL STAFF WRITER

When the state health secretary visited Northeast Pennsylvania during a recent health provider summit, Michael Arcangeletti slipped her a card. The bright blue card is his simple solution to help solve a complex, lingering problem — opioid addiction. The 35-year-old Old Forge graduate student noticed pharmacies did not give clients any information about how to get help for opioid addiction. So, he printed 1,000 cards for pharmacists and emergency workers to include with every opioid prescription, drugstore syringe package and naloxone dose to help patients find immediate and long-term help. The postcard-size inserts contain phone numbers, addresses and websites for medical providers and organizations that offer addiction help. At first, a few independent pharmacists in Lackawanna County distributed the cards. Now, a few months later, many more participate. “I just look at this as another means to throw a resource at this problem,” said Arcangeletti, a recover-

ing addict clean for almost a decade who is studying social work at Marywood University. His new goal is to get pharmacies in neighboring counties and national pharmacy chains to adopt his model. Giving Sec. Rachel Levine a card was an important step in that direction because she helps lead Pennsylvania’s new Opioid Operational Command Center. Levine passed the card to Ray Barishansky, a deputy secretary with the Opioid Operational Command Center. “At least it got to the Command Center what we did here in Lackawanna County,” Arcangeletti said. His initiative comes as the opioid addiction epidemic worsens. The phar macy often is an addict’s first contact with prescription painkillers. Lackawanna County had Pennsylvania’s second-highest opioid prescription rate per capita in 2015 — 112 prescriptions per 100 residents, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Please see CARDS, Page A13

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issue another request for proposals for operators to open centers in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, Gallagher said. The concept of Recovery Support Centers is still relatively new. The idea is to extend to the real world the support services those in recovery receive while in treatment, Gallagher said. “A lot of time they come back into the real world with their former friends and former activities and fall right back into the habit,” Gallagher said. “Recovery centers give them the opportunity and place to work things out and not fall back into their old patterns... It opens another door to recovery they didn’t have in the past.” The centers, which will be open 42 hours a week, also will provide additional support services to help participants and their families improve their lives, including help in finding a job or continuing their education, said Dennis Phelps, executive director of Trehab. “It’s a comprehensive approach to connect community service and essential services for people in recovery,” Phelps said. Northeast Behavioral Health Care Consortium awarded Trehab $941,000 in one-time Medicaid money to buy buildings in Tunkhannock and Montrose and assist with other opening costs, Gallagher said. Trehab will be responsible for obtaining its own funding to continue operating the centers, he said. Trehab plans to open the Montrose center, 19 Public Ave., by mid-July, Phelps said, and to close on the purchase of a building at 102 Warren St. in Tunkhannock within the next few weeks. The Tunkhannock center should open by mid-August, he said.

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Doctors also serve as counselors, Barbour said. “Our doctors are not going to walk in a room and spend five minutes with a patient, write a prescription and leave. They are going to talk to them about their disease,” Barbour said. The opening of the new clinic came during a year when Luzerne County experienced a record number of 151 fatal drug overdoses, most of them tied to opioids like heroin and fentanyl. However, the clinic is also trying to lessen clients’ use of other drugs that have a medium or high risk of abuse. When patients enter the

program, they average two such medications. After 90 days, they average 1.2, including the suboxone, Geisinger officials say “A unique part of our program is we are decreasing the number of prescription medications patients are on in addition to addressing their opioid addiction,” Barbour said. The program is strictly monitored. Patients who abuse their prescribed-medicine maintenance are discharged from the clinic. Clients are routinely tested for drugs. Some clients visit the clinic several times a week. And some, who are doing well, are asked to visit far less.

“If they are doing fantastic, we can see them once a month,” Barbour said. City officials welcomed the new clinic. “Opioid addiction is a nationwide epidemic and Wi l k e s - B a r r e i s n o t immune,” Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George said. “People with opioid addictions — our friends, family, coworkers, neighbors — need help. I have faith that Geisinger’s new clinic will provide treatment to patients in a controlled environment, while being respectful and responsible to the residents surrounding the hospital.” Contact the writer: bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal


WB_VOICE/PAGES [A07] | 06/30/18

18:41 | BOONELAURA

OPIOID CRISIS: LOST BUT LOVED

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2018

THE CITIZENS' VOICE A7

Officials look to change laws on forced treatment Asthedeathtollfromtheopioid crisis rises, some legislators have promoted involuntary commitment as a way to deal with the problem. In Pennsylvania, the law only allows involuntary commitment for someone who has a severe mental illness. The standards for such a commitment are strict, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. A person can be admitted for emergency treatment for up to fivedaysif consideredadanger to oneself or others. To be considered a danger to other people, a person must have physically harmed or tried to harm someone else within the past 30 days and there must be a reasonable probability he or she will try to

MORE ONLINE

find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/. harm again. Other grounds for commitment include attemptedsuicidewithalikelihoodof a reoccurrence, substantial selfmutilation or an inability to care for oneself. A physician must certify the person’s conditioninwritingbeforeawarrant is issued. “It’s a high standard,” Rose said. Some state legislators have tried to expand the law to allow people to petition the courts to commit their family members who are addicted to drugs. State Sen. John Yudichak. D-14, Plymouth Twp., was

25

Number of deaths

BY BILL WELLOCK Staff Writer

2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES

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among the sponsors of Senate Bill 391, which would have expanded involuntary commitment to people addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. “Last year we saw a record number of opioid overdoses in Luzerne County and its impact on families is devastating. As a legislator, I’ve supported many

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in July and the push for involuntary commitment for addiction treatment.

LOST: Family tried to help When he was about 17 years old, he started dating Danielle Levy. Gary’s brother and his father, also named John Havrilla, say that marked a turning point in his life. The couple spent years together. They had six children and gave up four for adoption. Gary’s family and Levy blame each other for not doing more to help him. They agree on at least one thing — he needed treatment he could afford and couldn’t walk away from. They think he needed a mandatory rehabilitation program if he was going to get off drugs and stay that way. “If it has to be by the judge, it has to be by the judge, because I think that’s only way it’s going to work,” said his father. “I definitely think something should have been mandatory for him,” Levy said. “Absolutely. Because telling someone that they’re going to go on probation and not to do drugs? Obviously he wasn’t clean. Obviously, it didn’t work.” Levy points to 2013 as the year she thinks Gary began using heroin. She and Gary were living together in Larksville and were worried they wouldn’t be able to afford the rent. Only Levy was working and Gary struggled with alcohol. They moved in with her stepfather in Wilkes-Barre in a house that soon became the scene of a massive drug raid. Law enforcement arrested 10 people, including Levy, who was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and Gary, who was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. It was the latest arrest in a string of criminal charges dating back to 2002. Gary’s criminal record should have been an obvious sign that he needed more help, his brother said. “He’s a danger. Look at the track record. There has to be trust involved. For someone, including my brother, to keep doing this and to expect voluntary action on it? I don’t know. It’s just asinine to me. I never understood that.” When it became clear that Gary was abusing drugs, his family tried to help. They paid thousands in court fees and sent him to a rehab facility near Philadelphia. Levy said Gary told her that Social Security Disability Insurance wouldn’t cover a 30-day stay at the facility. He left after about a week, and she picked him up. When they got back to Luzerne County, he went to go buy drugs. Levy didn’t call

APR

WarreN ruDa / Staff pHotograpHer

John Havrilla of Luzerne, brother of Gary Havrilla, sits with his father, John Havrilla, as they discuss how Gary died from an overdose last year.

bills to help fight the opioid epidemic, and Senate Bill 391 would give family members another tool to use to help save their loved one’s life,” he wrote in a statement. The last action on the bill was a referral to the Senate Judiciary committee in February 2017.

relapse, Rose said. “We incarcerate people whose main crimes are that they’re drug addicts. But it’s kind of unfair when they can’t access affordable, effective treatmentinfirstinstance,”she said. The state should be doing more to provide enough affordable treatment for people who want it, Rose said. When people are jailed because they can’t find treatment they can afford, itbecomesacivillibertiesissue. “It’s certainly understandable that people want to have a way to force their loved ones into treatment. I think advocating for increased voluntary access to treatment would be far more effective in helping people with substance use disorders,” she said.

The ACLU opposes expandinginvoluntarycommitmentto people addicted to drugs or alcohol. There aren’t enough drug treatment facilities in the state for people who do want treatment, and evidence shows that Contact the writer: people who are forced into bwellock@citizensvoice.com treatment are more likely to 570-821-2051, @CVBillW

A MONTH’S TOLL: JULY

NEED HELP?

fourteen people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in January 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ July 1: gary Havrilla, 36, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ July 3: female, 36, from the pittston area. ■ July 7: female, 54, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ July 11: male, 45, from the Hazleton area. ■ July 12: male, 52, from the Hazleton area. ■ July 13: male, 30, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ July 15: male, 25, from the Hazleton area. ■ July 16: female, 39, hometown unknown. ■ July 17: male, 32, from old forge. ■ July 17: male, 29, from the pittston area. ■ July 22: female, 31, from the West Side. ■ July 24: male, 24, from the pittston area. ■ July 25: male, 47, from the West side. ■ July 28: female, 40, from mountain top.

IN A CRISIS Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-8291341 or visit www.helpline-nepa. info. the state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800662-4357 (HeLp). COUNTY ASSISTANCE the Luzerne County Drug and alcohol program can be reached at 570-826-8790. CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE the pennsylvania Department of Health has recommended facilities around the state that are “ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to substance use disorder treatment.” two in Luzerne County are: ■ Clean Slate: 189 e. market St., Wilkes-Barre, pa 18702; 570-846-2720 ■ miners medical: 43 S. main St., ashley, pa 18706; 570822-5145

HOW WE DID IT

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

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the police because she considered that a betrayal of their relationship. “It was hard for me. I loved him so much. I knew what he was doing was wrong, but what do you do in that position?” she asked. The couple continued to struggle. Gary went back to jail. Levy looked for a place to live. A friend in Wilkes-Barre agreed to take in Levy and her daughter. When Gary left jail, he joined them. She assumed he was clean. More trouble came into Gary’s life in the months before he died. His mother died from leukemia during his jail sentence. In the weeks preceding his fatal overdose, he kept mentioning $400 missing from his checking account, according to his brother. He blamed Levy, who denied taking money from the account and said she was the one who supported Gary.

In any case, he decided to use drugs again. One night, Levy and her daughter left the house to prepare for a surprise birthday party for a friend. Gary stayed behind. When they returned, he was slumped on the floor. They thought he was joking, but after he didn’t get up, Levy called 911. They told her to do CPR while they dispatched first responders. His family doesn’t know exactly what his state of mind was when he decided to take drugs again. They aren’t sure where he bought them or shot up — Levy said she didn’t find a needle or drugs on him when she got home. “Did he get just fed up? ‘I don’t care?’” asked his brother. “We don’t know.” “I don’t think we’re ever really going to know,” Gary’s father said. Contact the writer: bwellock@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2051, @CVBillW

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [A01] | 07/07/18

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SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2018

W-B POLICE

Ex-chief’s pension would have been higher at lieutenant

FROM ANGUISH TO ADDICTION Woman believes sister’s mental health played a role in her overdose death BY STEVE MOCARSKY STAFF WRITER

The final hours of Brittany Moscatelli’s life remain a mystery, but what killed the 19-year-old is certain — an opioid overdose. Moscatelli’s body was discovered in a Wilkes-Barre area hotel room on Sept. 14, 2017. She had no ID on her, none of the jewelry she usually wore, no cellphone, and no cigarettes or lighter, despite her smoking habit. The next day, police confirmed her identity in a phone call when Brittany’s

Marcella Lendacky’s pension is still the second-highest of any current city retiree. BY STEVE MOCARSKY STAFF WRITER

WILKES-BARRE — It appears the city’s recently retired police chief could have attained a larger pension if she had remained a lieutenant. Marcella Lendacky, who retired June 3 under a cloud of controversy flamed by a negative analysis of her departmental leadership, will receive an annual pension of $73,645 after serving just under 2½ years as chief, and a total of 29 years, two months and eight days in the department. Lendacky’s pension is LENDACKY based on a percentage of the average of her last 12 months of regular pay of $107.080, plus holiday pay of $7,389, sick leave buybackof $4,268,anda$1,500“Act115” payment associated with a union negotiation that officers receive annually, for a total of $120,237. Regular pay includes her base salary of $95,481 plus a longevity payment and any unused personal, sick and vacation time. Police pension calculations can also include compensatory time, overtime, court pay and shift differentials, but Lendacky had none of those payments during her last 12 months on the job. Asked about her pension — the second-highest of any current city retiree — after serving less than three years as chief, Lendacky said, “Comparatively speaking, I didn’t make a killing.” Please see PENSION, Page A6

mom described her tattoos, according to Brittany’s sister, Kayy Moscatelli. Earlier that day, before Kayy’s mom received the call from police, Kayy opened Facebook Messenger on her cellphone, clicked on her sister’s chat head and saw the message: “Active five hours ago.” “Her body was found the day before. Someone was on her Facebook five hours before I got the call that she was gone,” said Kayy, 18, of Wilkes-Barre. “There was supposed to be an investigation.” Please see ADDICTION, Page A5

WARREN RUDA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Kayy Moscatelli talks about the life and death of her sister, Brittany Moscatelli, a 19-yearold from Pittston who died of an overdose Sept. 14, 2017.

LOST Agencies addressing mental illness, addiction BUT

LOVED

Life stories from a drug crisis Part of a series

BY STEVE MOCARSKY STAFF WRITER

Area agencies have been ramping up efforts to better address the cooccurrence of mental illness and substance abuse in response to the opioid epidemic in Northeast Pennsylvania. This co-occurrence has long been

recognized by mental health professionals, but the increasing opioid problem has brought the diagnosis to the forefront because “the combinations now are more deadly,” said Tara Vallet, administrator for Mental Health and Developmental Services for Luzerne and Wyoming counties.

“It certainly does impact our (mental health treatment) system,” Vallet said. “We’re working to increase the amount of treatment options where people can get treatment for both mental health and substance abuse at the same time.” Please see AgENCIES, Page A6

ADVE RTISE M E NT

Witnesses await state church sex abuse report with hope for change BY MARC LEVY ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG — One after another, witnesses beat back fear of revealing details many had kept largely private and recounted to grand jurors their story of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests whom they had trusted. As they spoke, many said they felt compassion from the grand jurors in the sweeping investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and coverups in six of Pennsylvania dioceses. And they felt believed. Now, many are eagerly anticipating the public release of the grand jury report, which is pending clearance from Pennsylvania’s highest court as justices sort through arguments by cur-

rent and former clergy named in the jury investigation that victim advodocument that releasing it would vio- cates expect will produce the largest late their constituand most exhaustive ‘It’s like, “Wow, I’ve clergy sexual abuse tional rights. “I was scared and held this secret for so report by a U.S. probably, in the first state. few minutes, visibly long and now I’m telling VanSickle, 55, tesshaking because it’s you the details and I tified he was sexualbig,” said James abused in 1981 by want to get this right.”’ ly VanSickle, recalling a priest in the Erie his experience as a Diocese. The priest JAMES VanSICKLE witness. “It’s like, was arrested in May Sexual abuse survivor ‘Wow, I’ve held this and charged with secret for so long and now I’m telling attempted assault, although VanSickle’s you the details and I want to get this allegation fell outside Pennsylvania’s right.’ There’s a lot going through your statute of limitations for prosecutors to head.” file charges. Dozens of witnesses testified in the state attorney general’s two-year grand Please see REPORT, Page A6

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ADDICTIoN: Family says more help is needed From page a1

A free spirit Brittany, who had been living in Pittston, was a free spirit and an animal lover who enjoyed cooking, baking and watching cooking shows. When she was sober, coloring in adult coloring books was her escape, Kayy said. “We used to sing and dance. We sounded horrible — the neighbors probably thought we were killing cats or something. We’d get in such great moods and run around the house singing and dancing. Granted, it was like 2 o’clock in the morning, so my mom would yell at us, but we’d always be there, and my mom sometimes would just jump in and start singing and dancing with us,” Kayy recalled. “She was a good cook, too. She used to bake cakes for my mom every year on her birthday. Growing up, we had kind of a rough childhood and she was the one who always made sure we were OK,” Kayy said. Brittany had a handful of “true friends who were there for her,” Kayy said. “She was the one they would call if they were ever in trouble. She’d be there in a heartbeat.” And Brittany had plans for the future. “She wanted to either be a veterinarian or a baker. She wanted to get out of this town and she wanted to do something with herself. But like everybody else, she just fell into (addiction). She got, like, grasped by it,” Kayy said.

‘I think it was her mental health’ Although Kayy doesn’t know the specifics surrounding her elder sibling’s fatal overdose, she has theories about what led to Brittany’s drug use. “I think it was her mental health. All three of my mom’s children have been diagnosed bipolar,” Kayy said. “I had my way of dealing with it. I went and I got the help. She didn’t really know exactly how to face it and how to deal with it.” Kayy said Brittany began smoking marijuana when she was 12 or 13. When she was 14, she was diagnosed with severe depression. Brittany got pregnant when she was 15 and gave birth to a son the day before her 16th birthday. “The father of her baby was there the whole pregnancy and then left and said he didn’t want to be a part of it,” Kayy said. “I think that really affected the postpartum and the

Number of deaths

25

But police turned up nothing.TheonlythingKayyknows forsurecamefromtheLuzerne County coroner — that a mixture of heroin and cocaine caused Brittany’s death. Kayy wants people to know that her sister was a good person who was robbed of her hopes and dreams by an addiction that possibly could have been prevented. She hopes her insights might help spur change that could save some lives, or maybe give just one person the push needed to reach out for help before it’s too late.

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tt THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in august and September and what area agencies are doing to address the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse.

HoW WE DID IT

This series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-toKnow Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. They were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

MoRE oNLINE

Find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/. depression she had along with the bipolar, because she just said, like, ‘Why does everybody else get to walk out? Why do I have to do this alone?’”

She knew she had a problem Sometime after her pregnancy, Brittany tried “spice” — a form of synthetic marijuana. “When she got a taste of the spice and she saw how easy it was for her to escape, that’s when she started using,” Kayy said. Aftera“badhigh,”Kayysaid, her sister ended up in a mental hospital for about a month “because of the effects that the spicehadonherbrain.” When Brittany was released, she was doing well, but her sister believes she was struggling mentally with what the spice haddonetoher. “I don’t know exactly when she got into the heroin and everything else, but it happened a short time after that,” Kayy recalled. And Brittany knew she had a problem. “She talked to me about it,” Kayy recalled. “She took care of her son; she loved him, endlessly, but it was so hard for her. She didn’twanthersontobearound what she was struggling with untilshegotherself better.” So Brittany placed her son withhispaternalgrandparents. She tried to get well, but “it went downhill pretty quickly,” Kayysaid. StartinginJuly2016,Brittany

was arrested six times in eight monthsforcrimesrangingfrom retail theft and criminal trespass at a Walmart to possession of drugsandparaphernalia. “I told her, ‘I could get you the help; we could figure this out together.’ She said she just wasn’t ready to face whatever it wasthatshewasrunningfrom,” Kayy said. “I believe there was stuff that happened to her that she never wanted to talk about, thatshecouldn’ttalkabout.” Kayy said her sister was too independent to ask for help, “eventhoughwewerethrowing it at her. She didn’t want to put the burden on anyone else (so) shedistancedherself fromus.”

Death a shock Although she knew her sister was addicted, Kayy said Brittany’s death came as a shock. “She had just gotten out of jail a week previously, and she was doing really, really, really well,” Kayy said. “When you have someone in your family that’s an addict, you think in the back of your mind that one day, you’re going to get a call. And when I was talking to her when she got out of jail, I never thought I’d get the call because she was going to meetings … she was living with her boyfriend, she was working on getting a job, she had her GED, she was trying to get her son back,” Kayy said. “Then, I don’t know. She went out one night, and I guess she did too much of what she usually did. And that was it.”

More help needed

on the street.” Kayy believes people’s attitudes and focus need to change as well. “If people focused on mental health and more on ‘Why are you an addict?’ and ‘What is it that you’re running from?’ insteadof ‘Idon’twanttospeak to you because you have a problem,’ if people focused more on whatitisthatcausesthemtodo drugs, I think we’d have less of an epidemic,” Kayy said.

Family torn apart Kayy said Brittany’s death and some people’s reaction to it have torn her family apart. “I speak to my grandmother and my mother and two or three of my cousins. I don’t speak to anybody (else) because they’re convinced that I or my mom or someone else is to blame,” she said. “Addiction doesn’t just tear the person apart, it tears apart the family and the people who care about them. Her best friend, she messages me from time to time about how much she misses her. I see her friends and how it’s affected them and it’s heartbreaking because I know what they’re feeling,” Kayy said. Now, when she looks at photos of Brittany, it’s the good memories that fill Kayy’s thoughts. “I see her holding me after a nightmare, I see us playing in the lake, I see us at my cousin’s cabin. I see us always having fun. Of course, we fought. We were sisters; we were 18 months apart. We liked the same guys; we liked the same clothes. We fought. But at the end of the day, she was always right there,” Kayy said. “And that’s what I see when I look at her picture — I don’t see an addict, I don’t see her issues because, the past few years, that wasn’t my sister. That was her addiction, that was not my sister,” she said. Kayy smiled as she looked at a photo of Brittany onto which she added angel wings for Brittany’s memorial service. She keeps the photo on a bedroom shelf “just to remind me my angel’salwaysthere,myangel’s always watching over me.” “When I look at that picture, I see my sister,” she said. “I see the memories of who she was before she fell into the addiction.”

Kayy believes that if more resources were available, if some people had acted earlier, Brittany and other overdose victims might still be alive. To start with, she said, there needstobebettermentalhealth education and better access to mental health providers. “If there were more resourcesbackwhenshe was10to 14 to helpherwithhermentalhealth than there are now, I feel she could have been helped,” Kayy said, adding that there should also be more — and better — rehabilitation centers. Kayy said one center sent Brittany packing after three days because of a clash with another patient. “This girl just kept harassing her, throwing food at her, threatening to beat her up. Contact the writer: And the rehab removed my smocarsky@citizensvoice.com sister instead of the person 570-821-2110 causing the problems, because the person who was causing the problems had been there longer,” Kayy said. Another problem, Kayy said, is that “you could get drugs in (some) rehabs … and jails quicker than you can get drugs

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School looks to increase mental health physicians BY STEVE MoCARSKY STaFF WrITer

Leaders at Northeast Pennsylvania’s medical school say ongoing initiatives to increase the number of mental health care providers locally and to incorporate behavioral health care at physical health care providers are important factors in addressing the opioid epidemic. Dr. Leighton Huey, associate dean for behavioral health integration and community care transformation at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, says that because of a stigma associated with mental health issues, individuals often don’t seek mental health treatment on their own. That’s why it’s important

for physical health care providers to be familiar with symptoms of mental health disorders and incorporate efforts to check for and recognize the possibility of such disorders during routine office evaluations. The school’s Behavioral Health Initiative seeks in part to link behavioral and physical health care, he said. “Integrated care is the best way to evaluate and address the problem,” he said. Huey said there’s a symposium on the initiative planned for Nov. 16 that will be open to the professional community and probably broadcast throughout the Geisinger Health System. Please see SCHooL, Page A6

THoSE WE LoST eighteen people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in august and September of 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. The Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ Aug. 1: male, 38, from the Hazleton area. ■ Aug. 8: male, 32, from the pittston area. ■ Aug. 9: male, 27, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Aug. 12: male, 32, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Aug. 16: male, 46, from mechanicsburg. ■ Aug. 18: male, 31, from the Hazleton area. ■ Aug. 29: male, 44, from the pittston area. ■ Sept. 2: Female, 31, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Sept. 2: Female, 26, from Brodheadsville. ■ Sept. 12: male, 30, from the West Side. ■ Sept. 13: male, 23, from the Hazleton area. ■ Sept. 14: Brittany moscatelli, 19, from pittston. ■ Sept. 20: male, 25, from Drums. ■ Sept. 20: male, 24, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Sept. 21: male, 65, from the pittston area. ■ Sept. 26: male, 47, from the Hazleton area. ■ Sept. 27: male, 31, from Weatherly. ■ Sept. 29: Female, 48, from the Hazleton area.


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A6 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

aGeNcIes: Training, education increased From page a1

NeeD HeLP?

Understanding the connections between substance abuse and mental illness is essential, according to Dr. Leighton Huey, associate dean for behavioral health integration and community care transformation at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. “There are many different patterns that occur when someone has a substance abuse disorder,” Huey said. Sometimes substance abuse can trigger a mental illness, and other times, having a mental illness — for example, bipolar disorder, especially if it goes untreated — can lead someone to substance abuse and addiction, he explained. Huey stressed that he’s not making a distinction between addiction and mental illness because substance abuse disorder is a psychiatric disorder. The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a complex condition — a brain disease — that is manifested by comp u l s ive s u b s t a n c e u s e despite har mful consequence. “People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using certain substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. … People with a

Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-829-1341 or visit www.helpline-nepa.info. The state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” The phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLp). For more treatment options, go to citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid. substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug,” according to the association website.

Recognizing problems, overcoming stigma Huey said a major hurdle for people suffering with mental illness can just be having it diagnosed. “The first line of defense is the family. But will a family recognize patterns of concern?” Huey asked. “It’s very difficult for a family to arrive at that conclusion unless what’s observed is so out-ofcharacter that (mental illness) would be obvious.” “In the school system, teachers are really important monitors of what’s going on.

the public with education and awareness about mental health to help alleviate the stigma, teach people about symptoms and direct them to sources of help. “Support services are available, and it’s as simple as dialing 211 — our local Help Line. And services are confidential,” she said. Vallet’s department also partners with the Northeast Behavioral Health Care Consortium, a nonprofit that manages the HealthChoices behavioral health program for people on Medical Assistance in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties. The consortium has i n c re a s e d e d u c at i o n a l opportunities and programming on co-occurring diagnoses for providers in the four-county area as well, she said. Vallet said her department is also working to train crisis workers to understand the connection between the opioid epidemic and mental health issues. When someone tells a crisis worker that they or someone else has an opioid problem, “rather than saying, ‘oh, that’s not something we do,’ Increasing education, we need to be making sure they get to the right place to training opportunities get the help they need,” ValVallet’s department also let said. partners with Family Servic- contact the writer: es Association of Northeast- smocarsky@citizensvoice.com ern Pennsylvania to provide 570-821-2110, @cvmocarsky

Does a student seem withdrawn, overly anxious? How is he or she engaging with other kids?” he said. A stigma associated with mental illness often deters someone from seeking diagnosis and treatment and family members, teachers, friends or co-workers from encouraging an individual or a child’s family to seek help, Huey and Vallet agree. Vallet said there have been more efforts over the last couple of years to increase awareness and education about mental illness to fight the stigma and “to educate the community so people know where they can turn for help.” Vallet noted that her agency is administrative. The department contracts with approximately 25 mental health providers, and the three primary providers — Children’s Service Center, Northeast Counseling and Community Counseling Services — are licensed to treat co-occurring disorders. “When we have trainings available, all of our providers are notified and invited to participate. There’s still a demand we’re not meeting, but we have ramped up that training availability,” she said.

scHooL: Shortage not just a regional issue From page a5

Terri Lacey, a registered nurse in charge of the school’s Behavioral Health Initiative, said there is a behavioral health workforce shortage that’s “not unique to Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s a national issue.” According to the ninth annual County Health Rankings, released earlier this year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Pop-

ulation Health Institute, there are far fewer mental health providers in Northeastern Pennsylvania than the statewide average. The ratio of residents to mental health providers is 2,190 to 1 in Carbon County, 1,480 to 1 in Schuylkill County, 1,100 to 1 in Luzerne County, and 680 to 1 in Lackawanna County; statewide, it is 560 to 1. A consultant for the Geisinger medical college determined that a seven-county

region of Northeast Pennsylvania would have to increase its number of psychiatrists by 40 percent to meet current need. Within the past two years, the medical college initiated a psychiatry residency program to train new doctors in the desperately needed specialty, Lacey said. Once all four classes are filled, the school will graduate four new psychiatrists per year in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

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contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @cvmocarsky

PeNsIoNs ReceIVeD The City of Wilkes-Barre maintains five pension accounts — two for retired police officers, two for retired firefighters and one for retired non-uniform employees. The police and firefighter relief funds serve employees hired after July 8, 1976. The following payments were made from those accounts to retirees in 2017: paid Firemen’s pension plan — $1,285,903 Bureau of Firemen’s relief plan — $662,324 police pension plan — $1,454,242

Bureau of policemen’s relief pension plan — $965,042 * The payments are prior to state reimbursement for administration of the plans. ** No payment was made to the Non-Uniformed employees pension plan in 2017 because an actuary determined the city should defer the lending to 2018. The city made a payment of $826,913 to the plan in 2016 and will make a payment of $1,888,821 later this year.

LeNDacKY: Wanted to make a difference From page a1

“I didn’t take that position for the money. I took it because I thought I could make a positive difference. I am and have long been a resident of Wilkes-Barre City and had a vested interest,” Lendacky said. “I could have made more money as a lieutenant with overtime.” Asked if she could demonstrate that assertion, Lendacky provided a copy of her pension worksheet for 2013, when her re gular pay amounted to $71,130 and her overtime pay was $35,461. With holiday pay, Act 120 pay and sick leave buyback added in, and accounting for 3 percent raises each year since 2013 and her 29 years of service, that would have pushed her compensation well over the $120,237 used to calculate her current pension. A review of recent retirees’ pension calculations reveals that some of them earned overtime pay in their final 12 months of employment that were considerably higher than Lendacky’s in 2013. For example, Brett Smith, who retired as a sergeant in January, earned $44,291 in overtime that was calculated into his pension. His regular pay amounted to $76,626. Add in comp time, court pay, holiday pay, shift differentials and Act 120 pay, and the total compensation for his final 12 months was $130,050 — nearly $10,000 more than Lendacky’s. At $70,386, Smith’s pension is lower than Lendacky’s because he had only 23 years of service compared to Lendacky’s 29. For employees who retired after July 8, 1976, pensions are based on 50 percent of their final compensation for up to 20 years of service, plus another 1.25 percent of their final compensation for every full year of service after that. So, while Lendacky’s pension is based on 61.25 percent of her final compensation, Smith’s is based on 53.75 percent of his. Lendacky said she would have been at or near the top of the call-in list to pick up

toP 10 cItY PeNsIoNs Nine of the top 10 highest pensions in WilkesBarre are paid to retired police officers. $77,534 — gerard e. Dessoye * $73,645 — marcella Lendacky * $72,811 — Francis p. Dehaut $71,144 — robert Hughes Jr. * $70,386 — Brett r. Smith $67,146 — michael J. Kasper $66,228 — Steven J. olshefski $65,401 — Donald J. Crane * $64,656 — Joseph Bitzer $64,198 — Bruce reilly ** * retired police chiefs ** retired assistant fire chief overtime shifts because of her seniority had she remained a lieutenant. She said she often worked 12-hour days or longer shifts as chief, but members of the administration don’t qualify for overtime. Always a hot topic, city retiree pensions have recently come to the forefront, now that Mayor Tony George applied to the state for distressed-city status last week. Citing a projected $3.5 million deficit next year, George said a half-million dollar increase in pension fund contributions next year is included in that figure. The city’s mandatory pension fund contributions are expected to rise from $3 million in 2019 to $7.1 million in 2020. George’s search for a new police chief remains at a stand-still, as salary and benefit talks with two job finalists stalled weeks ago. Commander Joe Coffay is currently in charge of the department. As for Lendacky, she said she’s not employed in any other capacity and is relaxing and enjoying her retirement. contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @cvmocarsky

RePoRt: Investigation a vindication

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Huey said one study shows the magnitude of the drug abuse problem among young people. It shows that 9 to 10 percent of children age 12 to 17 use some kind of illicit drug, and that doesn’t include marijuana. “It’s a pretty big problem,” Huey said, adding that there are probably not enough avenues in the community to address both substance abuse and mental health. “This is an area in the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. I think it’s not so much a failure of communities, but the overwhelming nature of the epidemic,” he said. Training teachers and others in the community to recognize signs of both substance abuse and mental health disorders is important, he said. Lacey said the medical school is implementing an initiative by the National Council for Mental Health called Mental Health First Aid in which medical students will be trained to go into the community and teach others the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use.

SUNDAY, JULY 8, 2018

From page a1

reliving the abuse and the fear that nobody would believe Witnesses see the investiga- them. They want the grand jury tion as a sort of vindication of their trauma, the years of report to bring sweeping

change, forcing their abusers and the church to be accountable and take responsibility. They hope it encourages other victims who haven’t come forward after years of dealing alone with their trauma to get the help they need. They also hope it propels lawmakers to change Pennsylvania law to give prosecutors more time to pursue charges against child predators and victims more time to sue for damages. The grand jury began investigating the dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — after prosecutors set up a hotline to solicit information from victims following an earlier investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. That grand jury in 2016 detailed allegations of the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests and others in the church over decades. Witnesses who testified in front of this latest grand jury went to the attorney general’s offices in downtown Pittsburgh, and answered questions posed by Daniel Dye, a state prosecutor leading the investigation, in a brightly lit courtroom-like chamber with huge windows.


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SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2018

‘That’s how we saved the borough’

Municipalities familiar with Act 47 share tips for Wilkes-Barre if it is granted distressed status. By steVe MocarsKy Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE — Follow the plan! Officials from the three municipalities in Luzerne County that have emerged from Act 47 status offered that same piece of advice to WilkesBarre officials if the state should deem the city financially distressed. Facing a projected $3.5 million budget deficit next year, Mayor Tony George requested the designation for WilkesBarre under Act 47 — the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act — about two weeks ago. A public hearing to determine if the state Department of Community and Economic Development should grant the mayor’s request is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 1 in City Hall. If the state determines that the city is financially distressed, the department will appoint a financial recovery coordinator, who will devise a recovery plan to enable the city to regain financial footing. Wilkes-Barre will be the fifth municipality in Luzerne County to participate in the state’s

What is act 47? the Municipalities financial recovery act of 1987 provides for professional financial consulting services, qualifies a municipality for emergency loans, and gives a municipality extraordinary taxing authority.

if you go a public hearing on WilkesBarre’s request to attain distressed status is scheduled for 5 p.m. aug. 1 at City Hall, 40 e. Market St. recovery program if George’s request is approved. The state rescinded distressed status for West Hazleton Borough, the City of Nanticoke and Plymouth Twp. in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively, after they regained financial stability, and the DCED deemed the City of Hazleton financially distressed last year. Officials from each of those towns — as well as from Scranton in Lackawanna County, which has been financially distressed since 1992 — shared their perspectives last week on participating in the

Tyler Lanning was prescribed Vicodin after falling off a roof. By Michael P. Buffer Staff Writer

recovery program.

West hazleton Of the 31 Pennsylvania municipalities that have been deemed financially distressed since Act 47 became law in 1987, the Borough of West Hazleton in 2003 was the first from Luzerne County to attain that distinction. Jane Mikulca, who had just been hired as borough secretary that year, said West Hazleton had about $800,000 in unpaid bills, and a mostly new administration had come into office, including the mayor, the late Carl Puschauver. The borough didn’t even have a manager on staff when she was hired. She now fills that post. nA few years ago, former coun cilman Bucky Kulaga had creditted Puschauver and some counciil members for “digging into n finances” and discovering mountains of debt — police grants that were improperly filed, unpaid bills, and unsustainable budgets for the police, fire and streets departments, leading them to apply for distressed status.

Man’s road to addiction began with a prescription

Mark Moran / Staff PHotograPH er

Ck file tiMeS-SHaMro

TOP: The City of Nanticoke left Act 47 status in 2015 and was the first city in the state to do so. ABOVE: West Hazleton shed distressed status in 2014. BELOW: The city of Hazleton recently adopted a financial recovery plan as part of Act 47.

Please see distressed, Page A4

When Lauren Stewart and her 9-year-old son, Jacob Lanning, were watching “The Dark Knight,” Jacob was curious about the actor who played the Joker. “He asked why Heath Ledger wasn’t in the other Batmans, and I had to explain that he died the same way Dad did,” Stewart recalled. Jacob’s father, Tyler Lanning, died Oct. 29, 2017 from a drug overdose. He was 34. “I had to explain it doesn’t matlanning ter. You can be rich, poor. You could be educated, not educated. You could be a blue-collar worker. It doesn’t matter what color, race. It could happen to anybody,” Stewart said. “I never thought it would happen to him, and I would be a single mom at 31 and live like this. But it happened. I’m angry and sad and disappointed, but at the same time, I saw him fight and fight. I honestly don’t think he had it in him anymore to keep fighting. People think they’re just junkies doing drugs. It’s not like that. When you live with somebody and you see somebody being an addict, it’s a totally different perspective.” Please see addiction, Page A5

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Trump tweets, hits links before high-stakes meeting with Putin Aides had said the president would spend the weekend preparing for Monday’s summit. By Jill colVin and renata Brito aSSoCiated PreSS

TURNBERRY, Scotland — Two days before a high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump played golf and tweeted Peter MorriSon / aSSoCiated PreSS Saturday from one of his namePresident Donald Trump waves to protest- sake resorts, blaming his predeers while playing golf at Turnberry golf club cessor for Russian election medin Turnberry, Scotland, on Saturday. dling and lashing out at the free

press from foreign soil. Aides had said Trump would spend the weekend preparing to meet Putin on Monday in Helsinki, but the tweets showed other topics were on his mind. “I have arrived in Scotland and will be at Trump Turnberry for two days of meetings, calls and hopefully, some golf - my primary form of exercise!” he tweeted early Saturday, referencing his seaside golf resort. “The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible! Tomorrow I go to Helsinki for a Monday meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

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Police taking drug ADDICTION: ‘He wasn’t always an addict’ fight to Darknet From page a1

The increasing toll of opioid deaths in recent years has coincided with the growing use of the Darknet, an unregulated, largely anonymous part of the Internet that often facilitates the sale of illegal drugs — especially the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The first nationwide undercover operation targeting Darknet sellers recently resulted in more than 35 arrests, including the arrest of a Hazleton man charged with operating an online drug business. The U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrests June 26. The Darknet, or dark web, which helps users remain anonymous through encrypted messaging apps and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, played i n role in the overdose death of 24-year-old King’s ColSOLLENBERGER lege student Joshua Sollenberger in October, according to his mother, Janice Hall. “They found packaging, and it was coming from Canada and Hong Kong, China, through the dark web,” Hall said. Sollenberger died Oct. 3 at his Dennison Twp. home, where he lived with his father. Toxicology tests determined he had cocaine, marijuana, fentanyl and the sedative alprazolam, or Xanax, in his blood, according to court records. Sollenberger started taking Xanax for anxiety, turned to steroids for bodybuilding and also began taking Adderall to help with his college studies, Hall said. “I just think he went crazy with all the drugs,” Hall said. “He started with the Xanax, and he realized he could make money from the Xanax as well.” A 2011 graduate of Crestwood High School, Sollenberger was studying computer and information systems at King’s. “He had horrible anxiety. I think he decided to get in on the dark web, and then it just escalated,” said Hall, who lives in White Haven. “The steroids didn’t help at all. He had the heart of an 80-year-old man. All his organs were a mess. He was just a mess, the poor child,” Hall said. In November, Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough signed an order allowing prosecutors to seize the assets in Sollenberger’s bank accounts, pending forfeiture proceedings, and froze access to the accounts by Sollenberger’s estate. Sollenberger’s cellphone received multiple messages from people inquiring about illegal drugs, according to police. He possessed more than 3,000 Xanax pills, multiple bags containing an unknown white powder, 41 glass vials containing an unknown liquid, nearly $3,400 in cash and a large quantity of unused pill capsules, investigators said. His PNC Bank accounts had large transfers of cash, and he had a total income of more than $121,000 over the preceding year, with only about $4,700 from his parttime job at Dick’s Sporting Goods, prosecutors said. The investigation conducted by the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office “is still open and active,” First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said, adding he could not comment further on the probe. The Hazleton man charged by federal authorities last month is Joshua Sweet, 26. He allegedly obtained alprazolam, LSD, and other substances from foreign sources and allegedly laundered more than $200,000 through Bitcoin as part of a drug trafficking scheme.

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Find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/. Federal authorities investigated 65 targets during the year-long, coordinated national operation in more than 50 federal districts — including the Eastern and Middle districts of Pennsylvania. “We seized their weapons, their drugs, and $23.6 million of their ill-gotten gains. This nationwide enforcement effort will reduce the supply of deadly drugs like fentanyl that are killing an unprecedented number of Americans,” Deputy Attorney General R o d J. R o s e n s t e i n announced in a June 26 press release. The extensive operation culminated in four weeks of more than 100 enforcement actions around the country. It resulted in the seizure of massive amounts of illegal narcotics, including 333 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, more than 100,000 tramadol pills, 100 grams of fentanyl and more than 24 kilograms of Xanax, additional seizures of Oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD and marijuana and the confiscation of 15 pill presses, which are used to create illegal synthetic opioids. “The Darknet is everchanging and increasingly more intricate, making locating and targeting those selling illicit items on this platform more complicated,” Derek Benner, executive associate director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said in a U.S. Department of Justice news release. “But in this case, HSI special agents were able to walk amongst those in the cyber underworld to find those vendors who sell highly addictive drugs for a profit.” In March, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele announced the arrests of two men for trafficking fentanyl and carfentanil, which they ordered, purchased and had shipped from China to residences in suburban Philadelphia. Those arrests followed a nine-month investigation that involved the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Fentanyl is cheap and deadly, since it’s 50 times stronger than heroin. But as dangerous as fentanyl is, carfentanil is substantially more dangerous since it’s a drug developed to tranquilize a three-ton elephant. It’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine,” Steele said in a news release. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro added, “... two drug dealers selling fentanyl and carfentanil — fatal poison — that was purchased o n t h e D a rk We b a n d shipped from China are behind bars. We’ll continue to be relentless in taking these criminals off our streets and battling the heroin and opioid epidemic across Pennsylvania.” Contact the writer: mbuffer@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer

Tyler Lanning’s spiral into addiction began four years before his death when he received a prescription for the painkiller Vicodin, Stewart said. He was working on the roof of their Lake Twp. home when he fell and injured his wrists. “He wasn’t always an addict. He didn’t wake up one day and say I want to be a drug addict,” Stewart said. “I saw him cry, a grown man cry, because he didn’t want to live like that. It wasn’t him, and it wasn’t who he was years ago.” A doctor continued to give Lanning Vicodin prescriptions for a year. Stewart said the doctor cut him off after she complained about his treatment on a website. “You’re going to go through withdrawal, so you have to get something else,” Stewart said. “He was buying off the streets, and that became expensive. That’s when I think he went to heroin because it’s cheaper from what I’ve heard. It’s very cheap, and it’s the easiest thing to get. He told me it’s the easiest thing to get around here.” Lanning went to rehab three t i m e s, bu t ch a l l e n g e s remained. When he was employed as a carpenter, rehab was expensive. When he was unemployed, he got coverage, but there was a wait. “He couldn’t stay away from the people, and I saw it because I lived with it,” Stewart said. “I could have locked him in the house for a week, and his phone would be ringing off the hook from his dealers or the people who he used with. That was a huge part of his problem. ... and if one dealer goes away, there’s always another dealer. It’s a huge opportunity for somebody to step up.” Stewart’s own brother died from an overdose in 2016. “When we went to my brother’s funeral, I said to him, ‘I hope this is a wake-up call,’” she said. “And he actually told me that people who were there and were using would try and get that stuff that he used because that means it’s really good. It’s like a sick way that they think.” Stewart was honest with her son about the cause of her brother’s death. “And he was starting to put some things together and asked if that’s why his dad was sick,” Stewart said. Lanning survived two overdoses from fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, in September and October last year. “I wasn’t aware because sometimes he would leave for a day or two,” Stewart said. “When he would leave, I would wake up at 1 in the morning and I would clean my living room, thinking a cop would show up and tell me he was gone.” By late October, Stewart had enough. “I need to get away with our son, and you need to get help,” she recalled telling him. “I said it was one or the other — get help or go to rehab. I mean I stuck by him for years and when everybody else gave up on him, I stuck by him, and I fought for him. I stuck it out because I didn’t want him to die.” Stewart and her son left for the weekend and returned home Oct. 29. She found him after the final, fatal overdose of fentanyl. “I had a gut feeling because when I went to the front door and I went to unlock it, I knew he was home. I just had a bad feeling and sent my son back in the car,” she recalled. “My son’s birthday was Nov. 1. Halloween was the day before. It was a very crappy week to say the least, having to

ST. ROBERT BELLARMINE PARISH CELEBRATING LITURGY AT ST. ALOYSIUS CHURCH Corner of Barney & Division Sts.,Wilkes-Barre will be hosting

SAINT ANN’S SOLEMN NOVENA JULY 18-26 - 7PM NIGHTLY Rev. James Price, C.P. Pastor, St. Rose of Lima Church, Carbondale will be conducting this nightly Mass and Novena to Saint Ann. All are welcome to join us in this 9 day Novena. The Church is Handicap Accessible and Air Conditioned

WarreN ruda / StaFF photographer

Jacob Lanning hugs a stuffed toy as his mom, Lauren Stewart, talks about his father’s overdose death.

25

Number of deaths

BY MICHAEL P. BUFFER StaFF Writer

2017 LUZERNE COUNTY OVERDOSES

20 15 10 5 JAN

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MAR

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JUNE JULY

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in october and the use of the dark web to obtain tt illegal drugs.

HOW WE DID IT this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost. make funeral arrangements on that Wednesday, on my son’s birthday. I don’t want to believe he did it to say, ‘F it, that’s it.’ But he already had a candy bag for my son and birthday card, which he never does, because it’s always last minute. SomeTHOSE WE LOST times it makes me think he ten people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in didn’t want to fight anymore. october 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. That’s something I’ll live with the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families forever thinking about.” agreed to be interviewed. Since then, Stewart and her ■ Oct. 3: Joshua Sollenberger, 24, from dennison twp. son moved to Hunlock Creek. ■ Oct. 4: male, 39, from White haven. She has a healthcare job as a ■ Oct. 12: Female, 39, from the Wilkes-Barre area. clinical support worker. ■ Oct. 13: Female, 29, from the pittston area. “My son still talks about ■ Oct. 14: male, 31, from White haven. him proudly and I love that, ■ Oct. 14: male, 22, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Oct. 20: male, 18, from White haven. even though he knows how his ■ Oct. 23: male, 26, from Lancaster. dad died. That makes me ■ Oct. 29: Female, 27, from the Wilkes-Barre area. proud, that he looks at the good ■ Oct. 29: tyler Lanning, 34, from Lake twp. times,” Stewart said. Stewart also looks back fondly on the good memories. our future,” she said. “A fall Contact the writer: “He was an amazing man, a from the porch roof, and it was mbuffer@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer great father. We had plans for never the same from that.”


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LET THE GAMES BEGIN Luzerne County is set to host the Keystone State Games this week.

Barletta defends Trump amid firestorm Barletta attacked those who criticized the president’s summit with Vladimir Putin. BY MARC LEVY aSSociated PreSS

T h e Ke y s t o n e S t at e Games coming to Luzerne County on July 25-30 are expected to have a huge economic impact in the area. The games, Pennsylvania’s largest annually held multi-sport competitions, will bring about 7,000 people to Luzerne County, said Keystone Games Executive Director Jim Costello. That includes about 3,500 athletes and their families as well as hundreds of coaches, volunteers, coordinators and other officials, he said. “You will have several athletes staying over, eating out and gassing up,” Costello said.

HARRISBURG — As President Donald Trump found himself under pressure from his own party this past week, Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania reached for his shield. Barletta, who is running for Senate with the expectation of substantial support from Trump, hails from a Northeast Pennsylvania congressional district that strongly backed Trump in 2016. He was one of Trump’s earliest backers in Congress in the presidential primary, co-chaired Trump’s camBARLETTA paign in Pennsylvania and served on Trump’s transition team. While some prominent Republicans in Congress this week pushed back on Trump or criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, not Barletta. Barletta attacked Democrats — who had criticized Trump’s suggestion at the Helsinki summit that he believes Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 elections — and, echoing the White House, Barletta stressed the potential for U.S.-Russia cooperation in world affairs. “People have lost focus of the good that has come out of that meeting. The question is: ‘Is the world better off that they met or not?”’ Barletta told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. “The Democrats want to try to find that one drop of blood in the water so that they can focus on Russia, their favorite subject.”

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courteSy of KeyStone State GameS

The Keystone State Games feature traditional sports like baseball, along with non-traditional ones such as darts or table tennis.

Games to have huge impact on economy

BY ERIC SHULTZ Staff Writer

coming for the Keystone Games. Costello is a WilkesPennsylvania’s own version Barre native and Mountain of the Olympic Games is com- Top resident whose father, ing home, so to speak. Owen Costello, served as the The Keystone State Games, Keystone State Games’ CEO featuring sports as main- from 1983-2015. stream as baseball, basketball “I was involved from Day 1. and golf but also niche sports Even though it’s not a familysuch as darts, disc golf and owned business by any means, table tennis, will descend on my father really raised us that Luzerne County this week. it was like a small family busiThe 37th edition of the games ness,” said Costello, who noted — as well as the 34th annual he was 5 years old when Owen Pennsylvania t o o k ove r a s Senior Games — MORE ONLINE CEO. “Since that are scheduled for first year he was View a map of host July 25-30 at veni nvo l ve d , w e sites for the Keyues around the we r e p u t t i n g stone State Games county. T-shirts in bags at citizensvoice.com. Billed online and handing as “Pennsylvathings out. nia’s largest amateur athletic “I can’t remember a sumfestival” that has attracted mer I wasn’t involved.” more than a half-million comThe same could nearly be petitors since it started, the said for Jean Lipski, Lakegames have been held in cen- Lehman’s longtime field hocktral Pennsylvania for the past ey coach who got her 500th 13 years or so, executive direc- career win last fall. A similar tor Jim Costello said. Costello commitment to the sport estimates this is the first time extends to the Keystone State they’ll be in Luzerne County Games, where she calculates since the late 1990s or early she’s worked for three-plus 2000s. decades with a brief hiatus So although 1982’s inaugu- while her children were young. ral games took place in State Please see GAMES, Page A4 College, it’s a bit of a home-

BY DENISE ALLABAUGH Staff Writer

courteSy of KeyStone State GameS

Field hockey competitions during the Keystone State Games will be hosted at Wyoming Seminary’s turf fields.

courteSy of KeyStone State GameS

The 37th edition of the Keystone State Games will be held July 25-30 at sites across Luzerne County.

Fighting the stigma of addiction

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find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/.

Why a local family made the decision to include their loved one’s addiction struggle in his obituary after his overdose death. BY MICHAEL P. BUFFER Staff Writer

After Matthew Swiderski died at 29 from an overdose Nov. 1, his family had a choice when writing his obituary. His struggles with addiction could have remained a private family matter, but they chose to help remove the stigma around addiction by being forthcoming. “We decided we were going to put it in,” said his sister, Jenny Swiderski Yonick. “I was adamant about that because I didn’t want another — ‘died at home or died unexpectedly.’

People need to know.” “We take comfort in the knowledge that our beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew and friend is at peace. Another gifted and muchbeloved person was stolen from this world due to the devastating effects of heroin,” the obituary said, adding Swiderski “was freed from his struggles” Nov. 1. “We’re of the belief that the stigma needs to go away and now more than ever it is clearly an epidemic. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It’s almost as if every person has

somebody that’s going through what we went through as a family,” Yonick said. “I just want people to know there is a living, breathing side to addicts. It’s not just these deadbeat people that are junkies. They are real people who have so many people who love them.” Yonick, 31, said she isn’t sure exactly how and when her brother became addicted to heroin. She suspects his struggle with depression and anxiety led to his addiction.

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STIGMA: Families also impacted by addiction From page a1

Number of deaths

“My brother, he was a person who struggled with depression, ever since he was a teenager. He felt that people couldn’t understand him. He just couldn’t get out of his darkness,” Yonick said. “The thing with this is we don’t even know the half of what went on, just by the nature of how addiction is. We don’t really even know where he got it or how he got it. He talked to another family member and said if he had known the half of what this does, what heroin does, he would have never ever decided to start it and he wished he had the hindsight to not.” Yonick and her brother grew up in Nanticoke. They both graduated from Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre. “We were both on the swim team together,” she said. “I was a senior when Matthew was a freshman.” After graduating from Hoban in 2007, he earned a degree in creative writing and literature from Burlington College. “It was hard for him with his depression and anxiety to go through the interview process and things like that, so at the time of his death he was not working,” Yonick said. “Our whole point of view was he needs to get better. He can’t focus on getting employment when he is struggling with so much. My parents literally did everything they possibly could.” He was living with his parents — Dee and Ken Swiderski — in Nanticoke. “My parents went to the end of the earth to help him,” Yonick said. “They did everything they absolutely could to help him. If love were enough, he would still be here because that’s how our family is.” He enjoyed spending time with his maternal grandmother Dolores Evans and paternal grandparents, Victor “Speedy” and Dorothy Swiderski. “He would spend a crazy amount of time with his grandparents, provide them company, help them get their food ready,” Yonick said. “My 90-year old Pop Pop would make my brother go to the gym with him and do work outs. He loved his grandpar-

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in November and why families are more forthcoming when loved ones die of overdoses.

THOSE WE LOST

twenty-two people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in November 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ Nov. 1: matthew Swiderski, 29, from Nanticoke. ■ Nov. 2: male, 49, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Nov. 3: Female, 37, from Freeland. ■ Nov. 4: male, 31, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Nov. 5: male, 37, from Scranton. ■ Nov. 5: male, 41, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Nov. 8: Female, 50, from the Hawley area. ■ Nov. 8: male, 36, from the pittston area. ■ Nov. 9: male, 25, from Weston.

HOW WE DID IT

this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell ents. He would literally do anything for them.” Yonick and her husband live in the Harrisburg area. She’s an elementary school teacher for the Cumberland Valley School District. “We feel like this fall — before he passed away — was like his gift to us because he was not doing anything,” Yonick said. “He was not doing heroin this fall. He went to multiple Penn State games with us. He went

■ Nov. 11: Female, 41, from the pittston area. ■ Nov. 12: Female, 70, from the Wyoming area. ■ Nov. 14: male, 45, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Nov. 15: Female, 33, from the West Side. ■ Nov. 18: male, 33, from the West Side. ■ Nov. 19: male, 27, from the Hazleton area. ■ Nov. 19: male, 42, from the Hazleton area. ■ Nov. 21: male, 35, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Nov. 23: Female, 31, from the West Side. ■ Nov. 24: male, 19, from the Hazleton area. ■ Nov. 26: male, 28, from the Hazleton area. ■ Nov. 26: male, 50, from the Hazleton area. ■ Nov. 29: male, 22, from Nuremburg. their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost.

if not more than the addict. You fear phone calls that come at a wrong time, fearful of the other shoe dropping,” Yonick said. “It isn’t just the addict that’s going through the darkness. Our entire family was right there with him. The one thing I could say about our family is no matter what we loved him. He knew, the Matthew that is my brother and not the addict, I know deep down inside he knew he was loved by his family.” Toxicology testing shows he died from an overdose of fentanyl. “It wasn’t heroin laced with fentanyl. It was pure fentanyl. Our opinions are how could somebody sell somebody this knowing it will kill them?” Yonick asked. “The crazy thing in is I’ve done so much reading and research since this has happened, and it could be anyone. It could honestly stem from your doctor gave you a pill for your ankle injury. It can just blow out of control. And it’s so important for our younger generation. I’m a teacher, and I look at these kids. These kids need to know, and they need to know now because it could be anyone,” she said. “It’s a crapshoot if you have that addictive personality. What causes somebody to like that feeling of getting high is horrifying to other people. I had gall blader surgery, and they were shooting me up with all crazy stuff. And I was like — I hate how this makes me feel. I feel like I’m going to die. This is terrible. But you don’t know how that would impact somebody else.”

camping. He was going camping with us. He was spending all this time with us, which he was not able to in years. It was a blessing because of all the wonderful memories we have this fall.” Those memories from the fall helped her family deal with his death. “We’re trying to live in the positive because we’ve been through the worst. ... It was a Contact the writer: long, long struggle, and it mbuffer@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer impacts the families as much

More families choose to talk about addiction BY MICHAEL P. BUFFER StaFF Writer

at odds I’ll say, and because of him reading the obituary, he said, ‘your boy was a good kid. He didn’t deserve to go out that way.’ He wanted to make amends. He cared about my boy, and he cared about me. And he still does. And he came to the viewing and everything and has been very supportive of my family.” Carol Coolbaugh — who organized a local chapter of the support group Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, or GRASP, after her son died of an overdose in 2009 — encourages publicly disclosing in obituaries and social media that addiction was the reason behind the death of a loved one. “People need to do that,” Coolbaugh said. “They should step up and not be ashamed. You can’t break the stigma if you don’t.” The local GRASP chapter normally has meetings at 6 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month at First Hospital in Kingston.

When Charles L. “Chaz” Perez III died in April one day before his 30th birthday, his father wanted to disclose why, and his son’s obituary noted he “lost his battle with heroin addiction.” “Everyone in my family was in 100 percent support of wording it exactly like that,” Charles L. Perez Jr. said. “My family is very tight. Friends of the family are very tight. There were 300 people that showed up to the viewing. When I chose to have his obituary worded in the very beginning, it was to let the family and the friends know that I wasn’t prepared for it. I also knew in my heart that my boy did not commit suicide. He was not a suicidal individual.” Perez Jr. also wrote about his son’s death and his “battle with heroin addiction” on Facebook. “I have had an outcry of support from people,” he said. “Because of his obituary, I had a friend of mine Contact the writer: contact me who I haven’t spo- mbuffer@citizensvoice.com ken with in awhile. We were 570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer

GAMES: Sites across the county to play host IMPACT: Thousands to travel to region From page a1

This summer, Lipski is the regional director for the Pocono region’s teams in the field hockey tournament. She’ll also be coaching the region’s Keystone (first team) squad against the rest of the tournament’s regions at the scholastic level (11th and 12th grades). Lipski has noticed that times have changed. Back in the day, the Keystone festival “used to be, really, the only game in town,” she said. It was a tournament that presented a big recruiting opportunity for college coaches who lined the field in the heart of a field hockey hotbed. That’s not quite the case nowadays with travel teams and camps filling top players’ schedules and providing much more exposure. In fact, Lipski noted some players are instead heading to the AAU Junior Olympic Games’ field hockey competition in Iowa at the end of the month. Nevertheless, the chance for young field hockey players to play with new teammates and learn from different coaches is still an opportunity worth signing up for, she said. “They love the game, and they just want to get their sticks moving,” Lipski said. “If people didn’t volunteer, our kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to play. If we want our area to be better ... we have to do this.” Lipski also encouraged spectators to come out and watch the games’ events, which offer “something for everybody” and feature no admission fee for certain competitions.

It’s hard to predict what might happen, after all. She remembers an old field hockey tournament that experimented with a new overtime rule — 7-on-7 to start, with each team losing a player every two minutes. The intriguing idea backfired in the summer heat when the two sides whittled down to one field player and a goalkeeper each. Once the game came to a merciful end, the rule was scrapped. “I was afraid the kids’ h e a r t s we r e g o i n g t o explode,” Lipski said. “They were so hot and so tired.” Just like a faulty field hockey rule, the Keystone State Games have evolved over the years. The games are open in most sports to amateur athletes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, New York, West Virginia, Ohio and Washington, D.C. Age groups provide everyone with ample opportunity to participate; with the Senior Games also in the area, Costello is anticipating a few athletes in their 90s this summer. Costello remembers the original games, though, were “very limited” in participants and sports. As the years went on, he and his father have tried to adapt to the times. “That’s why we feel we’re still kicking,” he said. “We’ve been able to continuously change.” So, sports many are familiar with will still take place, like field hockey on Wyoming Seminary’s turf fields, golf at Wyoming Valley Country Club, swimming at the CYC and individual and duals wrestling at Wilkes Universi-

ty’s Marts Center. Recreational sports are also in the mix nowadays, too, like bocce and cor nhole at Newber ry Estates in Dallas, bowling at Chacko’s Family Bowling Center in Wilkes-Barre and darts at Murphy’s Pub in Swoyersville. It’s all part of the Keystone State Games’ mission to “promote physical fitness, sports activity, and sportsmanship as a health improvement and disease prevention strategy for all Pennsylvanians and other participants.” “We’re not just sports,” Costello said. “We’re all about fitness, we’re all about health, improving everyone’s life.” That’s what has kept Jack Monick involved for all these years. Misericordia University’s men’s and women’s tennis head coach said he’s worked for the Games for more than 30 years. He’s worn many hats over the years and this summer is the pickleball and senior tennis director while also helping with the golf tournament and photographing ice hockey. Monick’s involvement comes from “all the coaches that gave up all their time before me, for me,” he said; he’s now paying it forward. As for the athletes, Monick — a former Penn State Wilkes-Barre athletic director of more than 26 years — said the Keystone State Games allow everyone to tap into their competitive side. That was never more apparent for him than in a previous edition of the senior tennis tournament, when two 90-year-olds won the doubles gold medal unopposed. But they didn’t stop there; the

two announced they’d be squaring off in the 90-degree conditions for the singles championship. For a full set, one man would serve the ball, and the other would shout back “ace” unless it came right to them. “From the young ones to the old ones, the competition is there,” Monick looked back. “You’re talking health. You’re talking people who aren’t sitting in their chairs. … I played with an 80-yearold in doubles (recently), and she was full of life.” It wouldn’t be possible without some help, which Costello has found in local seasonal employees that he admitted work all throughout the year. Plus, he said Geisinger is partnering with the games to provide athletic trainers at “high-risk” sports to look out for the safety of competitors. There will be a lot to take in this week. With roughly 3,000 athletes already registered, Costello is hoping for 3,500 total athletes and 7,000 total in attendance when factoring in families and spectators. Expect Costello to be part of that total. A former wrestler, he’s come to appreciate field hockey from watching the finals every single summer at the games, among trips to every other event. “I absolutely fell in love with field hockey. … It’s a great sport; Pennsylvania has some of the best,” he said. “It’s my goal as the executive director, I go to every single venue to see the athletes at some point all week long.” Contact the writer: eshultz@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2054; @CVericShultz

From page a1

County into the Poconos. Hotel rooms in Luzerne County were filling fast because several people also are coming into the area for the Gander Outdoors 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stock car races to be held July 27-29 at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond and other events, she said. The Hilton Garden Inn in Wilkes-Barre Twp. was able to book some rooms for the Keystone State Games participants but rooms filled fast for people going to Pocono Raceway next weekend, said Hildy Ide, director of sales and marketing. The Woodlands Inn in Plains Twp. will serve as host hotel for the Keystone State Games and will provide several rooms for staff and the board of directors, Costello said. They will be moving in there Monday and setting up their operations out of the Woodlands, he said. Woodlands co-owner Ross Kornfeld said in addition to offering rooms at a reduced rate for Keystone State Games employees, the hotel also offered complimentary meeting rooms. Kornfeld said the Keystone State Games will have a positive impact when coming to town. “The more that come into the area, the better for everyone. The better we treat them, they will come back year after year,” Kornfeld said. “If an event comes to town, they’re bringing people here and how could it be bad? The more the merrier.”

The athletes will use several local facilities including Wilkes University’s McHale Athletic Center for basketball and Martz Center for wrestling, Newberry Estates in Dallas for bocce, cornhole and pickleball, Murphy’s Pub in Swoyersville for darts, Hazleton Area High School for track and field and fencing, Wyoming Seminary fields for field hockey, Wyoming Valley Country Club in Hanover Twp. for golf, the CYC in Wilkes-Barre for swimming and as well as Chacko’s Family Bowling Center in WilkesBarre and Nanticoke Table Tennis Club. “Luzerne County has some of the best facilities you could imagine in a small area,” Costello said. The Keystone State Games promotes a list of area hotels on its website. People coming to the area were encouraged to book rooms months in advance, Costello said. Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau worked with local hotels to ensure rooms would be available for the thousands of people coming here. Janet Hall, executive director of the Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau’s staff has been busy making sure that everyone coming in for the Keystone Games could be accommodated in hotel rooms. Luzerne County has 47 hotels with about 3,600 rooms and since next weekend is very busy, Hall said in some cases, the staff had to Contact the writer: reach out to hotels outside dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com the area in Lackawanna 570-821-2115, @CVallabaugh


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‘HE CRIES EVERY NIGHT’

Cardinal Father’s overdose death has been tough on young son resigns amid abuse claims BY DENISE ALLABAUGH Staff Writer

Six-year-old Kayden Blaker drew angels for a month after his father died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl in December 2017. “He’s in counseling,” said his mother, Cassandra. “It was really tough at first. He would say, ‘Mom, I MORE wish I INSIDE could just helping the go and children of bring him overdose back’ or ‘I victims. can’t wait Page A4 until I die to go meet Daddy.’ He cries every night and he has to hold his Daddy’s shirt closely.” When family and friends of Kayden’s father, Chris, gathered on his 33rd birthday on March 31, Kayden, born on March 7, chose to celebrate his birthday too. “He said, ‘Mom, this is going to be the first year Daddy is not going to give me a present and Daddy is not going to say happy birthday to me,” Cassandra said. “This whole year is going to be hard.” To x i c o l o g y r e s u l t s showed Chris overdosed on heroin and fentanyl, but Cassandra said Vicodin, Klonopin and methamphetamines were also found in his system. Please see OVERDOSE, Page A4

LOST BUT

LOVED

Life stories from a drug crisis Last in a series

The pope accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick on Saturday. BY FRANCES D’EMILIO aSSociated preSS

Warren ruda / Staff photographer

Cassandra Blaker and her 6-year-old son Kayden hold photos of Chris Blaker, who died of a drug overdose Dec. 30, 2017 in Edwardsville at age 32.

What have we learned?

E

very Sunday since mid-May, The Citizens’ Voice has profiled one of our neighbors lost to the region’s opioid epidemic, charting month by month the 151 overdose deaths that broke records in Luzerne County in 2017. We’ve talked to parents who lost their sons and daughters, grieving spouses, traumatiz ed and OUR OPINION children siblings who watched their brothers and sisters slide into addiction and then slip away. These were not easy stories to tell, report or read and week after week another came, relentlessly. Imagine that instead of one tragic story per week, there were three. That’s the rate of overdose deaths in this county, three per week. Our goals in pursuing this project were to help relieve some of the stigma associated with death by overdose and

to identify and address the issues arising from those deaths. Other than telling the stories of lives cut short, stories that have often been neglected in coverage of this epidemic, what has been achieved? What have we learned? In the past 11 weeks, we’ve learned that prescription pain killers continue to be a gateway toward addiction to heroin and even deadlier fentanyl and that some doctors’ prescription practices — overprescribing initially and abruptly cutting off prescriptions — often lead to deadlier street drug addictions. We’ve learned that addiction in many cases is tied to other psychological issues and that our region lacks a robust mental health network for dealing with those issues, despite efforts by the local healthcare community to address the gap.

Overdose deaths on pace to equal last year’s record The number of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in 2018 is on pace to equal or surpass last year’s total of 151, which was a record. As of Friday, there were 74 confirmed drug overdoses this year, while nine suspected overdoses were awaiting confirmation from toxicology tests, according to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office. The total of 151 in 2017 was up from 140 in 2016 and 95 in 2015. Drug overdoses have increased nearly every year since 2010 when there were 56.

Please see OPINION, Page A4

— BoB KalinowsKi

VATICAN CITY — In a move seen as unprecedented, Pope Francis has effectively stripped U.S. prelate Theodore McCarrick of his cardinal’s title following allegations of sexual abuse, including one involving an 11-year-old boy. The Vatican announced Saturday that Francis ordered McCarrick to conduct a “life of prayer and penance” before a church trial is held. Breaking with past practice, Francis decided to act swiftly on the resignation offered by the emeritus archbishop of Washington, D.C., even before the accusations are investigated by church officials. McCarrick was previously one of the highest, most visible Catholic church officials in the United States and was heavily involved in the church’s yearslong response to allegations of priestly abuse there. Francis received McCarrick’s letter offering to resign from the College of Cardinals on Friday evening, after a spate of allegations that the 88-year-old prelate had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians. The pope then ordered McCarrick’s “suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial,” the Vatican said. Please see McCARRICK, Page A5

ADVE RTISE M E NT

Abortion politics could play major role in governor’s races — including in Pa. Changes on the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to put abortion rights front and center this November. BY MARC LEVY aSSociated preSS

HARRISBURG — The politics of abortion could be especially prominent this fall as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican Scott Wagner hit the final stretch of Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial campaign. A changing U.S. Supreme Keith SraKocic / aSSociated preSS Court and lawsuits winding GOP candidate for gover- through federal courts seem nor Scott Wagner voted sure to put abortion rights front for a bill that would limit and center in governor’s races, abortions at 20 weeks. including in Pennsylvania,

where Wolf and Wagner are on opposite sides of abortion bills that could see votes in the Legislature. Wolf, a staunch supporter of abortion rights, vetoed a bill last December to shorten Pennsylvania’s current legal abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20 and effectively ban dilation and chriStopher Millette / evacuation, the most common erie tiMeS-neWS via ap method of second-trimester Democratic Gov. Tom abortion. Please see ELECTION, Page A7

Wolf is a staunch supporter of abortion rights.

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A4 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2018

Helping the children of overdose victims By DENISE aLLaBaugh StaFF Writer

One of the biggest issues facing young children growing up in households affected by addiction is an inability to bond, says Jessy Miller, director of drug and alcohol programs at Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre “It’s important during the formative years to have that parent-child bond,” Miller said. “Sometimes that will manifest with difficulty in school and engaging in structure and routine or isolation from friends and teachers.” Sometimes, school officials will be the first to notice that children from unhealthy and difficult homes are struggling to sit still for long periods of time and follow rules.

When school age children lack a parent-child bond, it’s tough for them to form relationships later in life. They often have an inability to selfregulate and suffer from emotional instability, Miller said. “They’re not understanding what’s really going on inside them and having feelings of abandonment or trust issues,” he said. “We tend to think it’s just a behavior issue but there’s more to it.” Children’s Service Center has seen an increase in the number of children impacted by the opioid epidemic, Miller said. In some cases in which parents struggle with addictions, children have been removed from their care and placed with grandparents or foster parents. Some parents work to become sober but struggle with parenting, he said. Children’s Service Center offers a wide range of pro-

25

Number of deaths

Children whose parents use drugs are at risk to use drugs themselves later in life.

also offers other services such as individual therapy and parent-child interaction therapy. “What we’re trying to do is find a way to engage families,” Miller said. “Services are available here and throughout our community.” Family Services Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania offers services such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents who lost a parent to a drug overdose or who have been impacted by other trauma, said CEO Michael Zimmerman. Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services offers prevention education in school districts throughout Luzerne County, said CEO Jason Harlen. Additionally, the agency has family meetings on Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. at 437 N. Main St.

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THIS WEEK, we look at those who died in December and what is being done for children of overdose victims. grams to assist children and families suffering as a result of the opioid crisis. The center recently started a pilot program in the Pittston Area School District that provides prevention education. Children who come from chaotic home environments, particularly where parents abuse drugs, often are at risk to use drugs themselves later in life, Miller said. The program focuses on

high-risk children who have experienced ineffective parenting or a lack of a parentchild attachment or exhibit inappropriate classroom behavior or poor social coping skills. Miller said the average age that drug users start experimenting with drugs in Luzerne County is dangerously low: 11 years old. “Too often, we wait for children to have experimented with drugs or alcohol and

then we get them into services,” Miller said. “We are looking for children in school who are being raised by grandparents or a single parent or who have parents who are sober but could use some parenting education or prevention education techniques.” The program provides services to families in the school, the community and contact the writer: the home. dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com Children’s Service Center 570-821-2115, @CVallabaugh

oVERDoSE: ‘He just couldn’t get away from it’ From page a1

oPINIoN: Our thanks to the families for sharing their stories From page a1

We’ve learned that involuntary commitment and treatment remain controversial topics, with some arguing it is the only way to reach some users while others question the legality and effectiveness of forced rehabilitation. We ’ ve l e a r n e d s o m e members of our community remain resistant to having treatment centers or sober houses in their neighborhoods, despite evidence of widespread abuse across all geographic, racial and economic lines. The prob-

lem is everywhere. Efforts to deal with it should be everywhere too. We’ve learned there are hundreds of professionals, volunteers, survivors and people in recovery working tirelessly in clinics, support groups and other settings to address these issues. They deserve our thanks and support. Finally we would like to extend our thanks to the families who chose to share their grief, memories and love for those they have lost. We can only hope we have done their stories justice.

Chris graduated from Bishop O’Reilly High School in 2003 and had struggled with drug addiction since he was 18, Cassandra said. “He started with weed,” she said. “He had a lot of depression and anxiety. He had emotional problems too. I think it just started out that he was self-diagnosing himself. Once he tried different things, he just liked the feeling of it and he couldn’t stop.” Chris attended Luzerne County Community College for a semester and he worked for Plymouth Borough for about two years doing street cleaning and other jobs. He worked at the Lord & Taylor warehouse for about two months, Cassandra said. Chris had survived previous overdoses when he was administered Naloxone, attended psychological counseling and went through drug rehabilitation, but struggled to keep a job, said Cassandra, who married Chris in 2012. “He would be good for like a year and then he would hang out with the wrong friends again,” Cassandra said. “They need to be in rehab more than 28 days,” she said. “Twenty-eight days is nothing.” Chris did several stints in jail for crimes like disorderly conduct and retail theft, the longest lasting three months. Cassandra said he would steal her credit cards and jewelry and their son’s games to buy drugs. “He would come home either drunk or high,” she said. “He would be irate.” Finally, Cassandra told him if she did not get help, she and her son would have to walk away. She also told him she would go to support group meetings with him.

NEED hELP?

IN A CRISIS: Local caseworkers for Helpline are available 24 hours a day to refer callers to resources available for those with drug and alcohol problems. Call 570-8291341 or visit www. helpline-nepa.info. the state has a similar program, “pa get Help Now.” the phone number is 1-800-662-4357 (HeLp). COUNTY ASSISTANCE: the Luzerne County Drug and alcohol program can be reached at 570-8268790. CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE: the pennsylvania Department of Health has recommended facilities around the state that are “ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to substance use disorder treatment.”

two in Luzerne County are: ■ Clean Slate, 189 e. market St., Wilkes-Barre, 570-846-2720 ■ miners medical, 43 S. main St., ashley, 570-8225145 MEDICATION-BASED TREATMENT CLINICS: there are facilities where people with opioid dependency go to receive medication-based treatment therapy after trying inpatient drug rehabilitation. ■ medication-assisted treatment addiction Clinic geisinger South WilkesBarre, 25 Church St., Wilkes-Barre, 570-808-3700 (Buprenorphine, Suboxone or naltrexone, Vivitrol) ■ miners medical, ashley, 570-822-5145 (methadone) ■ CHoiCeS, rear 307 Laird St., plains twp., 570408-9320, (methadone)

hoW WE DID IT this series is the result of months of work by our newsroom staff. Following a record-breaking year for overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017, which contributed to the declaration of a statewide disaster emergency in January, we used the state right-to-Know Law to secure the names of all 151 victims and reached out to their families to tell their stories and offer insight into the scourge of drug abuse. We are not publishing the names of all victims, just those whose survivors chose to participate. they were eager to share not only the pain and frustration that addiction has brought to their lives, but also the love and fond memories they hold still for those they have lost. He would go to meetings for about a month and then go back to using drugs, she said. “He just couldn’t get away from it,” she said. “I asked, “Doesn’t it feel good that you’re not high?’ And he said, ‘Your life is boring being sober.’” By 2016, after Kayden found a heroin needle under a bed, Cassandra had enough. “I walked away. I said I can’t do this no more,” she said. “He was out all night. I had nothing. He was stealing all this stuff and money. We

ThoSE WE LoST

twelve people died of drug overdoses in Luzerne County in December 2017, according to the county coroner’s office. the Citizens’ Voice is naming only those whose families agreed to be interviewed. ■ Dec. 2: male, 51, from mountain top. ■ Dec. 4: male, 53, from Drums. ■ Dec. 6: male, 27, from the Wilkes-Barre area. ■ Dec. 8: male, 53, from White Haven. ■ Dec. 13: Female, 18, from the West Side. ■ Dec. 14: male, 48, from east Stroudsburg. ■ Dec. 16: Female, 37, from the plymouth area. ■ Dec. 20: male, 58, hometown unknown. ■ Dec. 26: Female, 53, from the Hazleton area. ■ Dec. 30: male, 23, from pelham, New York. ■ Dec. 30: Christopher Blaker, 33, from edwardsville. ■ Exact date in December unknown: Female, 26, from the Hazleton area.

MoRE oNLINE Find more stories, resources, video, interactive features, a podcast and comments from our readers at citizensvoiceblogs.com/opioid/.

would go to a family function and he would steal out of their purses.” Cassandra said it was not only embarrassing, but it got to the point where she felt her son was in danger. When he was not using drugs, she said, Chris was a great father and her best friend. When he was younger, Chris was involved in sports and liked the outdoors. He also played the drums and guitar and was in two bands. During an interview at a Kingston home, Cassandra and her son wore matching

shirts they had made in his memory that read, “Your wings were ready but our hearts were not.” They showed a photo of Chris and Kayden on a hayride. “He was a great father and a great best friend. He just couldn’t kick the addiction. If he stopped the addiction, I’d still be with him,” she said. “I miss him every day. If he could have just stopped, we would still have our family.” contact the writer: dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2115, @CVallabaugh

NEWS IN BRIEF coNTEST

CHriStopHer DoLaN / StaFF pHotograpHer

Wilkes-Barre coffee shop hosts local market

Vendors Emily Masi of Wilkes-Barre, left, and Tammy Milia of Luzerne chat during a Shop Local Market at Pour Coffee House in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.

receive four executive movie passes to RC Theatres WilkesWe want your Barre Movies 14, to be picked tomato recipes up at The Citizens’ Voice, 75 N. Does your family rave about Washington St., Wilkes-Barre. — Staff report your homemade tomato sauce? Do they always want BaZaaR MaP more of your homemade salFind local bazaars sa? Then we want your recipes! using our map Share your best tomatoMap out a bazaar weekend based recipes with us for a using The Citizens’ Voice’s chance to win movie passes. Summer Bazaar/Festival One winner will be chosen at Finder. The interactive map random. We will share some and searchable database of of the recipes in the official local church picnics and fire program for the upcoming company bazaars is now live Pittston Tomato Festival and at citizensvoice.com/bazaars. all of the recipes on our webUse search filters to find site, www.citizensvoice.com. events by date, organization To enter, email your favorite and address. The map shows tomato-based recipe to citythe locations of each event. To desk@citizensvoice.com and add your event, email the include the words “tomato rec- details to jumpstart@citizensipe” in the subject line. Please voice.com. Please provide a also include your name and physical address for the event hometown with your recipe. location. Don’t forget to visit Entries must be received by us on social media: facebook. Sunday, Aug. 5. The winner com/nepabazaars and will be notified by email and @CVNEPABazaars.

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