By Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4) – More than 750 Coloradans have died from heroin overdoses over the past five years. But, behind the numbers are families and their stories.
Shannon Schou remembers her younger brother Johnny, as an All-American kid, who loved playing sports with friends at their home in Fort Collins.
“We grew up in the same house most of our lives,” said Shannon. “He was full of energy, had lots of friends and did well in school.”
In high school, Johnny’s passion turned to music where he became an accomplished bass player, a star in the Fort Collins High School orchestra and a part of a rock band Tickle Me Pink.
“He got a record deal by the time he was 20,” Shannon recalled. “That was a big deal in our little town.”
In 2008, Johnny’s band played a stadium show in Denver on the Warped Tour.
“That was a big full-circle moment for Johnny. He grew up going to the Warped Tour. Our mom would take him and make sure he was safe. Now he was playing there.”
That stadium show was the last time Shannon saw Johnny alive.
The same day his new record was released, Johnny Schou died of a heroin overdose. The most prominent song on that new record, “Madeline” was about losing loved ones to heroin.
“It’s the call you never hope you get,” said Shannon.
She said Johnny’s addiction took its toll on the whole family.
“I was not able to help, I was watching him die,” she said.
She said she would call her brother just to make sure he knew he loved her.
Johnny’s picture is now on the memorial wall at a Denver needle exchange, surrounded by pictures of other people whose lives were cut short by drugs.
Shannon is now a therapist who draws from her personal experiences to counsel others dealing with addiction.
“There is a reason people use,” she said.
Johnny was bipolar and only turned to heroin when his prescription medication failed him, Shannon said.
“It’s a car accident, its mental health, its grief. Something has changed that then this becomes an option.”
She believes it’s crucial to treat the root cause of why people use to help people to truly heal.
“I really think that Johnny needed to get his bipolar under control if he ever had a chance at recovery,” she said.
Because Johnny hid his addiction and injected drugs alone, Shannon now supports a controversial plan to provide supervised injection facilities here in Colorado.