Austin Eubanks stood last month before an audience in Kentucky with a powerful warning: Millions of Americans are suffering with crippling emotional pain that we just don’t know how to fix.
The problem, he said, is that we are surrounded both by suffering – shootings and divorces and wars – and by addiction in the form of social media and powerful painkillers. Some people retreat online. Some drug themselves. Neither way is healthy, he said.
“We live in a culture today that is ill-equipped to address emotional pain in a healthy fashion,” Eubanks told attendees at the Kentucky Harm Reduction Summit on April 9.
It was a message Eubanks himself learned after being shot in the hand and knee while he a was student at Columbine High School in 1999 during a mass shooting that killed his best friend and left him addicted to painkillers.
The painkillers prescribed in the hours after the attack worked, he said, insulating him from the tragedy surrounding him. The drugs also left him addicted and jailed, his years of abuse of Oxycontin, Adderall and Xanax growing worse until he lost his career in advertising and marketing, descending into a life he described as “Grand Theft Auto,” stealing cars and writing bad checks as he fed his addiction.