In Depth with Brad Byrd: Austin Eubanks and the tragedy of addiction

In Depth with Brad Byrd

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Last November, Austin Eubanks was on In-Depth with Brad Byrd talking about surviving the Columbine massacre that happened 20 years ago: April 20, 1999. He was shot in the hand and knee.

Austin was next to his best friend who was killed instantly when the shooter opened fire in the school library. Austin was 17 years old.

He was prescribed painkillers. He found relief from the physical pain and then kept taking the pills to battle an emotional pain.

Austin says he was addicted within three months and did not seek help until 7 years later. At the age of 29, he says he was clean and recovered.

He became a speaker to inspire others to beat addiction, abuse and worked at an addiction center. He spoke to local students.

Austin Eubanks was found dead this weekend.

His family said, “he lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face.”

Austin Eubanks was just 37 when he passed.

Full Transcription:

Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth–last November I welcomed a man to this table. His name–Austin Eubanks. 
Austin was a survivor of the columbine massacre that happened 20 years ago: April 20th, 1999. Austin was shot in the hand and knee. He was next to his best who was killed instantly when the shooter opened fire in school library. Austin was 17 years old at the time.
Doctors prescribed painkillers. Austin found relief from the physical pain and then kept taking the pills to battle an emotional pain. He says he was addicted within three months and did not seek help until seven years later. At the age of 29 he says he was clean and recovered.
He became a speaker inspiring young people to beat addiction and drug abuse. He worked at an addiction center
He spoke to students at two Tri-State schools and Crossroads Christian Church. Austin Eubanks was found dead this weekend.
His family said, “he lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face.” Austin was just 37 when he passed.
Joining me tonight is Lisa Seif, she’s a Psychotherapist and Certified Addiction Counselor. And Lisa, just last week we were at this same table talking about the pain of addiction and the irony of it all. This was the first night of this support group that is being put on by 7 Sisters. You were here with Lindsay Locosto who lost a brother due to addiction. Tonight, you had about 30 people you tell me or 40. What were they telling you? Can you tell me?

Lisa Seif: Just how painful it is for the family. How powerless they feel; how guilty they feel; how lost. That they want direction, they want support, they want education, they want to understand it. They’d like to fix it.

Brad Byrd: Is that really possible? 

Lisa Seif: Not so much. Maybe some day we can get it in remission to treat it, but to fix it permanently, and maybe for Austin, he got in a mindset that’s real dangerous for people in recovery when they think they’re cured, or they think they’re recovered. That doesn’t happen.

Brad Byrd: It was a little more than five months ago when he sat right there in the chair you’re sitting in and we were having a conversation about what he went through and here’s how Austin Eubanks described becoming addicted. He told me he had never taken pain killers before Columbine.

Austin Eubanks: “So, immediately after columbine, I was in a state of shock. I was hysterical. I had just witnessed the murder of my best friend. And I had just been shot in an environment where you’re always told you’re going to be safe. I was heavily medicated for my physical injuries. And without even knowing it, I immediately started taking those substances to mask that emotional pain, not even knowing what I was doing. At that time, I knew that a bunch of highly-qualified people prescribed me medications to make me feel better and they were working and that’s it.”

Brad Byrd: There’s a young man who seemed extremely confident, and I’m not an expert of course on diagnosing anyone who’s had addiction, but he said he was clean, he appeared to be clean and he had a very powerful message and five months later he’s gone. His family called this addiction a disease. You used the same words last week.

Lisa Seif: Absolutely.

Brad Byrd: That’s not usually a description we use for addiction. But you feel very strongly about that.

Lisa Seif: Well, the American Medical Association determined it was a disease in the 50s. So, it’s treated by medicine, it’s treated by therapy, it’s treated by mental health centers as an illness and a disease is chronic – meaning it never goes away, it’s progressive, and it’s fatal if it’s not kept in remission.

Brad Byrd: He was in remission for the better part of eight years, this wasn’t slipping eight months in, it was eight years. What type of trigger went off?

Lisa Seif: He was in full remission, you’re in full remission after having one full year – he was in full remission and he was leading a clean and sober life and writing books and going around talking about addiction.

Brad Byrd: And his last appearance was just two months and it was at a Connecticut Opioid Prevention Conference and I believe that was on March 19th. And that was his last public speech. But he’d given so many speeches to, not only professionals, but to kids.

Lisa Seif: You know Brad, sometimes you have to be careful – your ego, the notoriety, the popularity – doesn’t’ get to you. You can’t forget that you have a condition that you have to treat even though you’re trying to help others. Which is one of the corner stones of all recovery programs and get out and help others.

Brad Byrd: He was talking about Columbine – the 20th anniversary was April 20th – there had been a shooting in Colorado in the Denver area, and there was the alleged plot of an individual on the schools in Denver – could that have been something he was possibly reliving that he didn’t want to relive?

Lisa Seif: You know, who knows. That was a troubling time, but most people in recovery or who have an illness have things in life that are traumatic to them or that put them in states of minds that are difficult. I wouldn’t say that’s the reason with somebody with long-term sobriety and recovery would go back to using.

Brad Byrd: and these upcoming support groups in Evansville – that’s going to be what? Once a month? Twice a month?

Lisa Seif: Well, we had such a good crowd tonight – the 7 Sisters are thinking about adding another week. Families are in such different levels of pain.

Brad Byrd: Ok, and you can go to the 7 Sister’s FB page to get more information, dates, and where these support groups are held right here in Evansville. Austin Eubanks, he left this world too soon. But he did make a difference for some kids who may have been on the verge of making some bad decisions. Thank you for joining us tonight Lisa.

Lisa Seif: Thank you.

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(This story was originally published on May 20, 2019)

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