Michigan educator who hid secret addiction shares her story

Amy Buchanan never imagined she would be in this situation

TROY, Mich. – A former assistant principal is fighting back against her addiction to prescription pain pills.

Forced to resign, and now facing criminal charges, Amy Buchanan is choosing to share her story publicly as part of her recovery.

Buchanan worked at Smith Middle School in Troy. She said she was high-functioning during her addiction and kept it a secret until she was arrested.

"That memory of that day is seared into my brain and haunts me," she said.

Now, just three months into her recovery, Buchanan stands at the podium on stage at the Berman Center in West Bloomfield Township.

"I made a conscious choice that night sitting in jail to surrender to this awful disease," she said.

Buchanan is talking about the night in August 2018 when police officers showed up at her Troy home.

"At that point I just lost it. I knew that they were there for what had allegedly happened. It was almost surreal," she said.

She was arrested and charged with home invasion second-degree. Troy police say she broke into a home looking for prescription pain pills, and that she took a student to the same house earlier that day.

"My story starts in 2013 when I had an emergency appendectomy," she said.

Buchanan said that's when she was first prescribed opioids. As a life-long sports player, she began having back pain and sought help from a pain management clinic. She eventually had surgery.

"At that point I was prescribed 120 pills a month for a year. I just figured it was prescribed by a doctor, it was safe, and they wouldn't give it to me if I didn't need it," she said. "By the end of probably 4 or 5 months I started to have to stretch that prescription out. I wasn't even making it to the end of the month. Nobody said it could be addictive."

She underwent more surgery, got prescribed more pain pills. But then, in late 2017, the prescriptions stopped.

"It was basically just cut off, you know, 'We're no longer going to give you those medications.' I realized that I needed them to survive," she said.

She went to pain clinics for more pills.

"I would reach out to friends, family and ask them for pills and sometimes they would give it to me. They see their friend or their family member in pain and they give it to them," she said.

An intervention last spring led to Buchanan's first round of recovery -- but it was short-lived. She said she relapsed because she didn't work through her recovery program.

"I just stopped going. I thought I had it. School started and I didn't utilize the coping strategies that I had learned. I didn't reach out. I just didn't do what I needed to do," she said.

After her arrest she had to resign from her job. She went to rehab and is now in intensive outpatient therapy. Recovery is her full-time job now.

"I also do yoga meditation. I'm a big fan of refuge recovery, which is more like a Buddhist practice. I really enjoy that -- another time to be mindful," she said. "I also go to the Animal Welfare Society, and that's almost daily as well. Those dogs and animals give me more than I could ever give them."

She credits support from family, friends and colleagues  -- the gallery was full of them during her last court appearance.

"What I would say to someone still struggling is No.1 to reach out, that it isn 't and doesn't have to be shameful." she said.

Buchanan said she never did heroin or other illegal drugs, but did struggle with anxiety and depression -- something she said goes hand-in-hand with pain pill addiction. She is working with Unite to Face Addiction to share her story to help others. She hopes she can return to work in the schools someday, possibly in a way that teaches students about substance abuse.

Unite to Face Addiction Michigan is a nonprofit that offers comprehensive resources for those looking for help. Anyone looking for help or to get involved can call (810) 360-5779.

Buchanan spoke during UFAM’s seventh annual Michigan Recovery Live Residency tour in early December. The tour aims to stop the stigma of addiction, that it is a community issue that many in the community experience whether through their own personal struggles or those of a loved one, friend or colleague. The tour also works with several community partners to educate, provide and support drug and alcohol addiction prevention, treatment and recovery initiatives. 

Meanwhile, her trial is scheduled for March.

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