CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — At exactly the same time Friday afternoon, too many families gathered at 30 sites across America to remember loved ones who had died of fentanyl overdoses — and to demand action.
Nationally, the group is called the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs, or APALD. The group’s website says 81,000 Americans died in 2020 of lethal drugs.
The Midstate’s event was at New Cumberland Borough Park, hosted locally by Erika Shambaugh, who had six children. Had, past tense. Now she has four. The other two, 22-year-old Austin and 20-year-old Joshua, died of fentanyl overdoses, in Joshua’s case — Shambaugh said — while he was having difficulty coping with his brother’s death, grief compounded by an inability to visit him in the hospital in his final days because of the pandemic.
Austin, she said — who had been in and out of drug rehabilitation programs — unknowingly bought fentanyl when he thought he was buying heroin. Fentanyl is synthetic and far deadlier than heroin.
One of Shambaugh’s surviving children, 15-year-old Kayla, has a child of her own but also does her best to take care of her mom.
“I’m keeping her strong,” Kayla Shambaugh said. “I’m 15. I have a kid. I lost two brothers. It’s not really the easiest thing in the world. But I’m definitely — I’m staying strong.”
Families gathered at the park said they want punishment for drug dealers, not drug users.
For users, they want “treatment instead of jail,” Debra Krell, whose 35-year-old son Robert, known as Robbie, died of a fentanyl overdose after struggling with addiction since he was 18 said. “They’ve done it in Portugal. They’ve had real success with that. And Oregon tried it.” Now she wants Pennsylvania to try it.
She also wants Pennsylvania to give parents the ability to commit their children involuntarily to drug treatment programs, which she says is allowed — with good results — in Ohio.
Beyond that, Erika Shambaugh said, “We need to end the stigma. There’s so much stigma around drug addiction. Nobody wants to admit that they have a problem. Nobody wants to reach out for help because, ‘Oh, shame on you.’ But they’re no different than me or you.”
She and others also called for more funding and less bureaucracy.
“There’s not help when they need it. and an addict can’t wait,” Krell said.
Shambaugh said many of the group’s ideas have bipartisan support — she named State Sen. Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland and York counties) and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf as two leaders who have been receptive. She said the challenge is keeping the issue a priority for lawmakers, with so much else competing for their attention.