Many fighting against an opioid relapse

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — At the end of three grueling years in law school, after graduating with honors and passing the bar exam, Bianca Knight had a nagging question too tough for even the smartest lawyer.

“How do I know if I have a problem?” she asked Dr. Dan Lonergan, the Vanderbilt physician who treats McCoy and Graves.

Knight had spent the past two years medicated. Every day. On hydrocodone pills a different doctor had prescribed when she injured two spinal disks lugging around heavy law books.

They helped with the pain, along with steroid injections, but she found the pills did something else.

“They also gave me a euphoric feeling and helped me get through my long day in law school,” she said. “It made it all easier.”

Knight, 37, is nearly blind from a rare optic nerve condition she developed several years ago. It may have added to her challenges but she wasn’t going to let it stop her from pursuing a career. She knew of blind attorneys, and a state program for the disabled paid for a reader who helped with her law school homework.

When she got her first opioid prescription, she was given a vague warning that some people can become dependent on the drugs, but thought, “that won’t happen to me.”

Opioids made her feel energetic, not impaired. Soon Knight was thinking about them all the time, and taking far more than the prescribed amount.

“Toward the end, I resorted to buying off the street,” claiming to have had dental work and no insurance, Knight said. “Eventually someone can point you in the direction of someone looking to get rid of some drugs.”

But resorting to street pills made her worry about her safety and the legal ramifications, picturing her career dreams crumbling if she didn’t seek help.

When she asked whether she had a problem, the doctor explained addiction and told her the average person doesn’t think about opioid pain pills 24/7 and carry them around in a purse.

Knight agreed to try buprenorphine treatment. Attending church and support group meetings also help, she says. She was able to continue medication treatment when she became pregnant last fall, which helps with her ongoing pain. She says the baby is extra incentive for her to stay clean.

“Now I’ve got someone else counting on me,” Knight said.

Still, relapse is in the back of her mind and Knight said she knows future challenges could make her vulnerable.

“For anyone in recovery, it is a daily struggle and I’d be a fool not to think so,” Knight said.