COAL TOWNSHIP - Nearly 200 people turned out for a drug awareness event Thursday at Shamokin Area Middle/High School.

It wasn't a capacity crowd - there were more empty seats than there were guests - but it was enough to signify to organizers that the issue of drug addiction has not been ignored.

State Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) said the crowd was about what he expected, which is OK, but he would have liked to have seen a larger turnout.

"In light of the problem we have, this place should be packed, so that's disappointing," Masser said right before he took the stage for the 6 p.m. start of the program.

Seven organizations had information tables set up inside the auditorium lobby. Prior to the program, guests spoke with representatives of treatment centers and anti-drug advocates. One woman was asking a representative from White Deer Run Drug Treatment Center about helping a man who says he doesn't need it. Nearby, a man spoke with a Northumberland County Drug and Alcohol representative about the effects of drug on the brain.

“That’s heroin,” Mount Carmel Police Chief Todd Owens told a group of girls from the Shamokin Area softball team. They asked about the drugs set out for display by law enforcement representatives. They included cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
There was a package of bath salts, a designer drug, that was glossy and green and made to be eye-catching. It had been illegally sold in a local convenience store.
“It’s supposed to be apple flavored,” Owens told another person when discussing how such products are specifically marketed to children. One woman said its packaging was reminiscent of “Pop Rocks” candy.
Tamara McGee, of Pyramid Healthcare Inc., an inpatient treatment provider, said she was most frequently asked about heroin and treatment options specifically for adults.
Rick Catino, of the Addiction Help Center, Atlas, said he was asked a lot about family involvement. “And I say it’s a must,” Catino said.
The crowd, of which about one-third were kids or teenagers, heard from Cpl. Joshua Wynn, of Coal Township Police Department. He said the community must support law enforcement in their efforts. Owens said anyone who witnesses any suspected drug activity should call 1-800-DRUG-TIP.
Pastor Paul Eby, of Restoration Ministries, Shamokin, spoke of his own son’s heroin addiction. He remembers when spoons started going missing in the house and when his son’s appetite changed, his weight fluctuated and he missed school and abandoned athletics.
“If things are going to change in this community, we have to start speaking up,” Eby said.
Chris Harvey, of Shamokin, discussed his own ongoing recovery from a drug addiction that caused him to consider making his next heroin fix his last. During his last stint in the county jail, he said he planned when he was released to get a needle, fill it and “check out”
Instead, he convinced himself to give drug rehabilitation one last try. That was two years, seven months and 15 days ago. He’s been sober since then. He had a message for those with zero days and a desire to get clean, people struggling with addiction and feeling like there is no hope.
“It is possible because I was that person,” Harvey said.
Aron Carter, of Elysburg, said he was dealing drugs as a pre-teen and in rehab at 15 years old, sitting in meetings with people more than twice his age.
“Own up to it,” he said to anyone facing their own addiction.
He urged people who know addicts to not label them with a scarlet letter. Demonizing them won’t help, he said.
Ryan, a student at Northwestern Academy, said a marijuana addiction that began when he was 11 years old led to repeated probation violations and harder drugs. He abused alcohol, too, and wrecked relationships with family and friends. He’s been in and out of juvenile detention centers, but said he now understands he was ruining his own life.
Denise Cressman, of Danville, spoke of a single dose of methadone that killed her son, Eric. It’s not known how he ingested it, and the circumstances surrounding his death raise questions. An asthmatic, the drug prevented him from breathing and he died in his own bed. It’s possible it was slipped into his drink, as medical professionals believed, given the reaction of his body, and he likely never took a heavy drug in his life. His best friend, Mark, a troubled young man, carried him there and locked the door behind him after he had passed out.
“Mark’s preservation was worth more than Eric’s life,” she said of her son’s death and his friend’s choice to not seek help.
Mark was dealing pharmaceuticals and transitioned to illegal narcotics when he was arrested in 2005. He’s serving a 20-year federal sentence for his responsibility in the death of Cressman’s son. He’s scheduled for release in November 2023, the same day her son, Eric, would have turned 38 years old.
“Our child had died, died under our roof without our knowledge,” Cressman said before raising a question she said she continues to ask herself to this day. “How could this have happened?”
She spoke of a Danville Little League all-star team her son played on in 1998 for 9- and 10-year-olds. There were 11 kids on the team. Five died, two related to drugs and three related to alcohol. Three are in jail. One is in a nursing home, and one she isn’t sure what happened to him. There was only one who became a success, she said.