CLARKS SUMMIT — Fear. Shame.
Families facing the devastation caused by substance abuse are often stopped dead in their tracks on their journeys to healing by the stigma surrounding what is considered a national epidemic.
This, according to South Abington Township resident Maureen Conahan, is why The Gathering Place, 304 S. State St., will host Open the Dialogue, a four-part substance abuse awareness series for caretakers of children in grades 5-12 and beyond.
“The purpose truly is to open the dialogue about the epidemic,” said Conahan. “Pennsylvania is now fourth in the country (for drug overdose deaths) - we were sixth last year.”
The series, co-chaired by Conahan, Anne Armezzani and Beth Florey, will kick off with a program titled “Facing the stigma and the Reality of Children’s Substance Abuse” from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 8. It will continue with “Exploring the Effects of Children’s Substance Abuse on Our Families” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29, and “Journeys into Recovery: Let’s Be Open” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19, closing with “Moving Forward: Helping You Engage” from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 10.
Admission to each program is free, but tickets are required and may be obtained on The Gathering Place Facebook page or by emailing Armezzani at gatheringplaceCS@gmail.com. Attendees will be entered to win a large screen TV and a Safer Lock box. The series is sponsored by the Wright Center, Tour de Scranton 15, One Point, the Bradford Recovery Center and the Rotary Club of the Abingtons.
Each session will feature talks by professionals and people in recovery, along with question and answer times.
Featured speakers include Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse, Joe Kane, of Clearbrook Treatment Centers; Scott Constantini, of the Write Center; Thomas DePietro, pharmacist and advocate; Jeffrey Thomas, of the Voluntary Action Center; Lackawanna County Coroner Timothy Rowland and Emily McDonld, EOTC family therapist.
A passion ignited
Conahan, a member of the Lackawanna Opioid Coalition and mother of three Abington Heights High School graduatess - Patrick, 23; Hannah, 21; and Brendan, 20 - considers herself “lucky” the drug epidemic never entered her own home. She said she knew very little about the topic until last April when a friend invited her to a Heroin Hits Home presentation by Shane Scanlon, then-district attorney of Lackawanna County.
Since then, Conahan said she has watched close friends go through “the trauma of substance abuse” in their families – an experience which ignited her passion for the cause.
“It’s a national crisis that’s been building for 20 years,” she said, adding the consequences of a child’s substance abuse are “very long-term and devastating,” but not always immediately apparent.
“The kids are sitting in classrooms, and they’re using these dangerous substances, they’re doing well on their SATs, they’re getting into school, and then they’re going there (to college) and it’s all falling apart,” she said.
“And parents are fearful of it, because that’s what happens - you’re fearful, you’re shameful, you don’t talk to anyone. And parents also don’t know about resources.”
Conahan pointed out substance abuse is not just a child’s issue, a school’s issue, a family’s issue or a police department’s issue; it’s an entire community’s issue, and everyone needs to work to prevent and stop it.
“The police can only do so much,” she said. “Everybody is doing their part, but it isn’t even enough. …We have to be able to go beyond the stigma, which is naturally bread into us. …It’s a ‘shameful’ topic, so nobody talks and nobody can help each other.”
“It is proven that stigma is a barrier - to treatment and to prevention.”