Family of Iowa boy who died of heroin overdose admits they were in denial, offers help to other addicts

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa-- Nick Shonka was just 24-years-old when he died from a heroin overdose earlier this year. Like so many addicts, he was able to hide it from his family and girlfriend of five years.

"He was able to live a pretty normal life while using so it was hard. I was always questioning whether or not he was using, you know?" Nick's girlfriend, Alyssa Wiest, explained.

And though she had suspicions, Nick's loved ones admit they were in denial.

"He'd be kind of fumbling around and trying to communicate with us, where he'd be talking to us and falling asleep," Nick's mom, Kim Shonka, said.

But still, the denial, anger, and bargaining continues.

"How do they have access to something so hard?" Nick's sister, April Dorman, asked. "Not my brother, not her son, not this young boy that has so much potential."

The phone call came in February. Nick died from heroin mixed with Fentanyl, an opioid that's now the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S.

Nick's family is sharing their story to raise awareness that there is help out there, something they wish Nick had realized.

"I want them to feel like they are not being judged, that they are worth something, that they are somebody," Shonka said. "There's people out there to help everybody because they all deserve a chance."

"Anyone coming up on their bottom, I am here to talk sense," Dorman said. "I don't know what you have done, or who you done it to, or what you did it for, but if you are here, I am here."

Those haunting last words, from Nick's sister, were actually his. She found them posthumously in his journal.

There are many places in the Quad Cities that offer help to anyone struggling with drug addiction.

Narcotics Anonymous holds ten meetings a week, in many locations throughout the Quad Cities.

UnityPoint Health Trinity offers a group-based outpatient treatment program to help people get and stay sober.

The Abbey Center in Bettendorf has both inpatient and outpatient options for people battling addiction.