MANSFIELD — Skateboards. Blankets. Hard helmets. Jerseys. Dogs. Kids. Photos of smiling faces. These are all things left behind by Tioga County residents who died of a drug overdose.
These items, plus many more, were on display at the Empty Chair Overdose Awareness Event at the St. James Episcopal Church on Friday, March 26. More than 30 chairs were set up on the lawn to represent the empty chair that is left behind at the table when someone dies of a drug overdose.
Cyndi Compton lost her son, Isaiah “Ike” Compton, to a drug overdose in October 2020 after not using for a year. Friday would have been his 25th birthday; she organized the event to raise awareness and to draw attention to the fact that there hasn’t been a charge or conviction on a count of drug delivery resulting in death in Tioga County.
“A lot of his friends who he went to school with and stuff have passed on before he did and … it’s just too much,” Compton said. “I feel like our county isn’t doing enough to help with the problem, as far as putting drug dealers behind bars.”
She said she’s written to the county commissioners, the district attorney, police departments, mayors, etc., but hasn’t gotten any response.
“I’m asking, why aren’t we prosecuting these drug dealers when I have to run into them at Walmart and know what they’ve done,” Compton said.
Compton said the DA did respond to her, but said she couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation. Isaiah's death has been ruled an “accidental overdose,” Compton said. No charges have been filed in the case.
“Every overdose death warrants a criminal investigation,” Compton said. “Putting away drug dealers won’t save my child, but it will save somebody else’s.”
She’s also started a support group for parents whose children have died.
“I really do feel it’s a different type of grief. It’s your kid ... a person who loses their husband is a widow … there’s no word for a person who loses their child,” she said.
Penni Crum, of Covington, knows that pain all too well. Her son, and Isaiah's best friend, Cody Crum, died in March 2020 of a drug overdose at age 24.
“There are no words, no words at all to describe losing a child. You grieve every second of the day,” Crum said. “I admire Cyndi for her work in raising overdose awareness because in 2020 there were over 81,000 deaths due to overdose and, unfortunately, our sons are part of that number.”
Crum said Cody struggled with drug addiction out of high school and went to rehab several times.
“He was such a sweetheart,” Crum said. “Everybody loved him. He was funny, smart; he was my best friend.”
He loved basketball, fast cars and was an Eagles fan. He worked in the oil and gas industry and was a hard worker, Crum said.
“He had so much to give but in the end he couldn’t fight his demons anymore. Drugs won,” Crum said.
Jen Eick, an admissions counselor at Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, agreed. She worked with Cody several times.
“He could always put a smile on your face, everybody loved him,” Eick said. “He was serious about helping others (at the recovery center), he would make them feel welcome and would do all the tours and groups.”
“But drugs changed him,” Crum said. “After a while, it changes who they are.”
Cody died in Lycoming County and his death was ruled as a homicide because it was pure fentanyl, Crum said.
To pinpoint one thing that needs to change to help the drug overdose crisis is hard. But Compton has some ideas.
“We need to start putting the drug dealers away, number one. Number two, people need to have better access to resources. If they don’t have private insurance, we need to be able to get them somewhere. Even after they leave rehab, we need more things for them to do around here,” Compton said.
Mansfield Mayor, Mike Detweiler, agreed.
“Addiction is still such a nuanced and complicated problem. Awareness is everything. Treatment centers are critical and chronically underfunded … The need is incredible,” Detweiler said.
Helping to tear down the stigma and guilt around drug use is good, too. Sandra Rhodes, a clinical outreach coordinator with Summit Behavioral Health, and Compton’s sister, said people shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed to ask for help.
As people who see their loved ones use drugs know, the public eye often fails to see beyond someone’s drug use. Rhodes works with people who are addicted to drugs everyday, but they’re more than addicts, she said.
“They’re people. And they’re good people,” Rhodes said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the Tioga County Department of Human Services offers drug and alcohol case management services, as well as outpatient assessment and counseling services.
For more information on Cyndi Compton’s efforts, search “No More Victims of Overdose in Tioga County Pennsylvania” on Facebook. For more information on Summit Behavioral Health, visit https://summitbhc.com/. For more on Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, visit https://mountainlaurelrecoverycenter.com/.