Columbine 20: School shooting leads to a decade of opioid addiction for survivor

DENVER --  Twenty years ago this week, 12 students and a teacher were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton.

Often forgotten are the 21 others who were injured. Austin Eubanks admits he wasn't severely injured that day. And that's the problem. Doctors treated him like he was.

"Well, when I left the hospital, I had a 30-day supply of medication. I went back to my primary care physician just a few days later and got another 30-day supply of medication," Eubanks told FOX31.

"Of everybody who was actually shot, I was the least severe. I wasn't internally injured, I wasn't critically injured. In retrospect, I probably needed some form of pain management, narcotic pain management, for three to five days," he added,

Eubanks says the over-prescription of opiates led to a decade of addiction to drugs like Oxycontin, Adderall, illicit drugs and alcohol. Rehab and relapse became his life.

"So, when people ask me what my drug of choice was, I tell them it was opiates that really fueled my addiction. But my drug of choice was really just more. I wanted more of whatever you had, and there was never enough," Eubanks said.

What the drugs weren't treating was the emotional trauma of losing his best friend, Corey DePooter.  The two were hiding under a library table when the Columbine shooters shot both of them.  DePooter died just inches away from Eubanks.

"I was just playing dead. There was nothing that any of us could have done at that point, especially not knowing what was really happening. And so both of the perpetrators fired multiple shots under our table and I was hit twice, and Corey was killed instantly," Eubanks said.

About eight years ago, he realized it was time make a change.

"When I finally decided to do whatever it took to recover, I knew it meant changing everything about my life. And so I walked away from a career in advertising, I went back to school to study addiction, I finally got my foot in the door working part-time for a treatment center. And so I went down and took all of the negative influences out of my life, and I replaced them with people places and things that held me accountable for being the best version of myself," Eubanks said.

These days, the best version of himself is sharing his story of addiction, recovery and the dangers of substance abuse -- with whomever will listen. Just as he did during this TedX Mile High "Ted Talk" a couple of years ago.

He wants to warn others of the dangers of opioid over-prescription and how the drugs can only make the emotional pain worse.

"For many years, especially at the core of my addiction, I wasn't living my life in a way that was honorable to Corey's memory at all," Eubanks said.

Now, he tries to honor Corey by going fly-fishing, alone, in the Colorado wilderness. It's something the two high school best friends enjoyed doing together.

"And when I'm out there and I catch a fish that's of above-average size, I kind of give him a nod and say, you know, 'He was with me today,'" Eubanks said.

To mark the 20th remembrance of the Columbine tragedy, we're telling the stories of victims and survivors in a unique way.  We're not showing images of the school from April 20, 1999.  We're not airing 911 calls from that day, and we're not showing the names or pictures of the killers.

Saturday, April 20, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting - and we have special programming on FOX31 and Channel 2.

At 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm on FOX31, and at 9:30 pm on Channel 2, join us for "Columbine 20: Heartbreak to Hope," a commercial-free half-hour special anchored by Jeremy Hubbard highlighting Columbine victims and survivors. 

At 8:00 pm on Channel 2, we're airing the broadcast premiere of "13 Families: Life After Columbine," a documentary featuring each of the families most closely affected by the Columbine tragedy.  The documentary will air commercial-free.

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