Part 2 of Rx Task Force’s Lunch & Learn gets personal | SteamboatToday.com

Part 2 of Rx Task Force’s Lunch & Learn gets personal

Henry Howard hugs his guitar while talking about how he used the instrument to help battle his own vices a few years ago. He was one of three speakers at the RX Task Force's Lunch and Learn series that was held earlier this week at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Different paths led Austin Eubanks, Jeremiah Lindemann and Henry Howard to the RX Task Force's Lunch and Learn series Wednesday, but all three men were unified in their drive to bring awareness to the epidemic of opioid addiction.

"This is the No. 1 cause of death for people under the age 50," Lunch and Learn organizer and Rx Task Force regional coordinator Mara Rhodes said. "It is far more prevalent that you think. The key is educating to prevent future problems, but we also need to break down the stigma.

“Stigma is one of the biggest problems that we face with this particular addiction,” Rhodes explained to the crowd of more than 50 people who attended the forum, which was held in Library Hall. “People don't talk about it, they don't want their friends to know and they don't want their family members to know."

Eubanks, who at 17 survived a mass shooting at Columbine High School by hiding under a desk in the library, was among the series’ presenters on Wednesday. And although Eubanks lived, he said the emotional scares of that day still haunt him.

"I am one of the injured survivors of the Columbine shooting,” Eubanks said. “I was in the library that day and was shot twice and witnessed my best friend murdered right in front of me, and as a result of that, I became addicted."

He was treated for the physical and emotional injuries following the shooting, but Eubanks said the people who were treating him rarely collaborated and the drugs he received for his physical injuries were easily abused to help ease his mental struggles.

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"All that I knew was a lot of highly educated people were prescribing substances intended to make me feel better and that they were absolutely working," he said. "The problem with that is, there has never been a great deal of overlap between physical health and behavioral health in our country. There was never any collaboration between the therapist I was working with and my prescribers."

Years later, Eubanks turned his tragic story into a quest to help others dealing with opioid and addiction problems as the chief operating officer at The Foundry treatment center in Steamboat Springs and he’s served as a consultant to those drafting legislation or establishing programs that address opioids.

Eubanks was joined by Lindemann, who lost his brother J.T. 10 years ago to an accidental opioid overdose. Lindemann, a geospatial analyst, said he remained quiet for years because of the stigma that shadows addiction. He broke his silence to create the Celebrating Lost Loved Ones interactive map, which allows family and friends to those who have died from opioid overdoses to post photos and stories of the people they’ve lost.

"The thing about maps is that people pay attention when it's happening in their own backyard, and when you add the human element to that, people can see that these are real people,” Lindemann said.

The final speaker at the lunch and learn event was Howard, former Steamboat Springs High School Student Council president and athlete, who turned to drugs and alcohol in college to deal with the anxiety he felt in social situations.

"I thought people would want to hang out with me because I was cool,” Howard said. “I was the president, and I was the prom king, but when I got down, there I discovered that I didn't understand how to get past that first two minutes of a relationship. I went back to my dorm and I felt scared and nervous and there was this anxiety was raised my chest … then someone walked past my dorm room and said do you want to go to a party and I said, 'Yes, let’s do that.'"

Three years later, Howard had developed a drinking problem and was diagnosed with kidney disease, which meant he could no longer drink and he needed a place to turn. That's when he discovered his guitar.

"This became my muse," Howard said as he strummed the guitar in his hand. "When I strum that G major chord … I realize that it is going to be all right. I don't need a Xanax, I don't need a cigarette and I don't need to go drink four shots of espresso and go work out because I feel anxious. I have a healthy outlet."

Today, as development director for Music with Vision, Howard is hoping to use music to help others dealing with the same feelings that drove him to develop unhealthy habits.

"The vision is a deep breath," Howard said. "Kids need a deep breath, a break from their cell phones and from the spinning wheel that they go through. It all starts with, ‘Hey, do you want to come play some music?’ And a G major is a great starting place."

The final installment of the lunch and learn series will take place at noon Wednesday, Oct.18 and feature Michelle Hana Linct, a naturopathic doctor, Amy Goodwin, a pain management and behavioral health specialist, and Alexis Tracy with Steamboat Spine Center & Orthopedics of Steamboat. 

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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