April 28, 2016

Remember Jessie with law to prevent another prescribed overdose | Charleston Gazette Mail

One of the most moving experiences I have had as a U.S. Senator was at Oceana Middle School in Southern West Virginia. I visited the school in 2011 expecting to talk with students about the importance of receiving a good education and working hard to gain the necessary skills to be successful in their careers. Instead, we talked about drug abuse and addiction, and I heard personal stories from some students about the ways that the drug epidemic had devastated their families and their community.

I remember one student in particular I spoke with who fought through tears to describe how her family fell under siege because of addiction. Her father was hurt in the coal mines and rapidly became addicted to his painkillers, causing her family to lose everything.

As I listened to her story, I couldn’t help but think that this young girl had to grow up far too fast. Her adolescence was ruined by such a small, yet potent drug. The heartbreak I felt for her and her classmates that day inspired me to make fighting the drug epidemic one of my top priorities and to do everything I could as a U.S. Senator to end this crisis.

I visited Oceana again last year, and talked with the same students that I spoke to in 2011. When President Obama visited West Virginia to talk about the impact opioid addiction is having on our nation, the kids met him and bravely shared their stories with him. They should be an inspiration to us all. They are hopeful for a bright future, and hope is something every child should have. While these students seemed to have broken the cycle of addiction, the fact remains that in our nation, most children are not that lucky.

Five years since my first visit with those students, the nation has finally started to wake up to the prescription drug epidemic we are facing, and we are starting to see drug abuse and addiction differently than we used to. Now, we realize this epidemic doesn’t discriminate when it infects our families and our communities. Like a contagious disease, it has swept across this country affecting every race, religion and socio-economic status. It has become so alarming that the President visited Charleston West Virginia last year to listen to West Virginians on the frontlines of this epidemic.

One of these West Virginians who bravely shared his family’s story that day was my friend David Grubb, a former West Virginia state legislator. At the time of the town hall, his daughter Jessie was in rehab for the fourth time at a facility in Michigan.

Before her life was taken over by addiction in 2009, Jessie’s future was bright. She was a beloved daughter to David and Kate Grubb, a loving sister to Katherine, Emma, Hannah and Ellie, and a friend to so many. She was an excellent student, scoring in the 99th percentile on all of her tests. She was a cheerleader at Roosevelt Junior High School and was an avid runner. At the time of her death she was looking forward to running in her first marathon.

The only trouble she had ever gotten in at school was when she protested the Iraq war. Needless to say, she was a natural born leader.

After graduating from Capital High School, she was thrilled and looking forward to her bright future at the University of North Carolina/Asheville. During her first semester, she was sexually assaulted, causing her to withdraw from school and return to Charleston.

This traumatic event caused Jessie to turn to heroin to escape the pain. Over the next seven years, Jessie would battle her addiction, overdose once and go into rehab four times. But she eventually turned her life around. She had been sober for six months, and was focused on making a life for herself in Michigan.

Last month, Jessie had surgery for an infection related to a running injury. Her parents traveled to Michigan for her surgery and told her doctors and hospital personnel that she was a recovering addict and not to be prescribed any opioids.

However, after Jessie’s surgery, the discharging doctor, who said he didn’t know she was a recovering addict, sent her home with a prescription for 50 oxycodone pills, when she shouldn’t have been given a prescription for one pill.

Her parents talked to her on the phone when she got home. She told them she was tired and that she would talk to them in the morning. That was the last time they talked to her. She passed away that night in her sleep. The temptation was too great for her, as it would be for any recovering addict. She should have never been given a prescription for opioid medication. Her death was preventable, and she should still be with us today.

That is why I promised David Grubb that his daughter’s death would not be in vain, and that is why I am introducing “Jessie’s Law.” I am doing this so that hopefully no other parent will have to experience the grief that Jessie’s parents feel. We must ensure physicians and other medical professionals have full knowledge of a patient’s previous opioid addiction when determining appropriate medical care. But with grief comes hope. As we grieve for Jessie and her family, let us pray that we can use this tragedy to help save others. Let us hope that Jessie’s smile and kind heart can touch others in need. Let us celebrate Jessie’s life and all that she meant to her family, her community and her friends.

Let us pass Jessie’s Law so her legacy stands long after us.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin