Person of the Week: Andrew Colao

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Andrew and Valerie Colao stand next to their black balloons they let fly outside of their house to acknowledge Black Balloon Day which pays tribute to those who died of heroin overdose. – Aaron Berkowitz photo

Local’s uphill battle with heroin addiction

At the age of 15 Andrew Colao, former resident of Shelton who currently lives in Ansonia, discovered that using heroin was the easiest way for him to numb the emotional pain he felt growing up as a teenager.

Not long after trying it for the first time, Andrew became addicted to the feeling of euphoria and relief of his overwhelming anxiety.

Now at the age of 28, Andrew has a 5-year-old son named Malekai is in recovery and helping others who are addicted and seeking treatment for their disease.

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Andrew. “I’ve really had to work on rewiring my brain because once you’re addicted your brain is always telling you, ‘Do it, there’s some right there, there’s some right there’.”

Andrew alway had a passion for music and recalls freestyle rapping with his friends when they were teenagers. Since entering recovery 8 years ago he has used his passion for music as a means for communicating and reaching out to other addicts.

He even gave out his cell phone number on one of his songs to give anyone in need of addiction services a direct connection to someone who is also going through the same battle.

Andrew said several people, who he chose to keep confidential have reached out to him after listening to his music which has made him feel like he has found his “calling”.  He’s the guitarist and vocalist in a band band called Blessed 2 Be.

He said his music is also a way of educating people about some of the tough decisions that have come as a part of the lifestyle of an addict. Andrew recalls being held up at gunpoint, stealing to scrape up enough money to afford his drugs for the day, and living in a cardboard box at the age of 17.

“I wish I had learned about it differently, but everything happens for a reason,” said Andrew.

When Andrew was in school the D.A.R.E program was the primary means of spreading awareness to students of the drugs that were being used.

Andrew said he thinks students would benefit more from hearing from someone who has experience the drugs firsthand.

“The D.A.R.E program didn’t make me want to do drugs or not want to do drugs. It was an odd experience,” said Andrew.

Valerie Colao, Andrew’s mother, said the D.A.R.E program uses the “scare tactic” approach instead of simply educating students on what drugs are out there so they are able to make more educated decisions.

He said he already has a plan to talk with son about the realities of drug abuse once he is older.

“I’m hoping by the time that conversation needs to be had I will have an even stronger support system where he can get information outside of me, but at the same time ask me any questions he might have,” said Andrew. “He already knows heroin and other drugs are really bad and can kill people.”

Valerie and Andrew said they think Narcan should be sold at Shoprite, Stop & Shop, and all supermarkets. Andrew said he wants to continue to raise awareness for people suffering from addiction because there are so many stereotypes attached to the disease.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate upon anyone. It could be a Wall Street executive who’s hooked or a homeless man who is. The only difference is the Wall Street executive had enough money to feed his habit.”

Andrew described his multiple relapses since beginning recovery at the age of 20.

“You know how long it takes to get a prescription? You can’t make someone wait for Narcan, they could be dead or dying,” said Valerie.

Scotty Schremmer, who was Andrew’s best friend, recently died of an overdose.

Andrew said he tried to save him by setting up an intervention and connecting him to resources as well as a bed in a rehab, but with no luck.

“I told him I loved him and that he was going to die if he didn’t get clean, but he wouldn’t listen and said ‘I’m not going to die…’ I told him if he couldn’t respect himself to get out of my house.”

Schremmer had been battling addiction and had tried heroin for the first time with Andrew. He had even been revived from an overdose on several occasions, according to Andrew.

Andrew recalls receiving a phone call while he was at work one day saying that his best friend had been found dead in his parents Oxford home.

“That was my best friend. It sucks, but it just goes to show if someone’s mom calls us there’s not much we can do. We need the person who is hooked on the drugs to reach out because they will only get help if they want it,” said Andrew.

For more information on Heroin support from locals, search Rage Against Heroin on Facebook or visit fuckheroinfoundation.com and to follow Andrew’s band visit Blessed2be.com.

(Editor’s note) Scotty Schremmer was not one of the two recent overdose fatalities located in Derby.

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