Charleston family’s moment with Obama brings support

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Kate and David Grubb pose for a picture with President Barack Obama after a discussion on substance abuse in Charleston last week. The couple’s daughter, Jessie Grubb, watched the event over the Internet from Michigan, where she is in rehab battling heroin addiction.

Jessie Grubb, battling heroin addiction at a rehab facility in Michigan, turned on her computer last week and queued up a live video.

Her addiction wasn’t a secret; close friends and family knew. But it wasn’t really out there.

On Wednesday afternoon Jessie Grubb watched as her father told the president of the United States about her struggle with addiction. President Barack Obama was in Charleston Wednesday for an event focusing on opiate addiction and West Virginia’s alarmingly high rate of overdose deaths.

“She cried and said it was both hard to watch and also heartwarming to watch,” said her father, David Grubb. “My God, the president’s talking about me; on the other hand, you’re thinking ‘oh my God what a terrible situation.’”

For years, the struggle had been a family matter, largely private.

“We didn’t tell people,” said David Grubb, a former state senator and the founder of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. “We just dealt with it that way.”

After the event, Obama sought out Kate Grubb, David’s wife and Jessie’s mother, in the crowd.

“He whispered in her ear that moms need hugs and he gave her a big hug,” David Grubb said. “It was so touching and so moving.”

Since Wednesday, people have been coming out of the woodwork to offer their support to both David Grubb and his daughter.

“People that I haven’t heard from for years,” he said. “People that are adversaries in the courtroom have contacted me and said their thoughts and prayers are with us.

“The support has been incredible.”

David Grubb told the president about how addiction has affected his whole family.

“My wife and I, we have five daughters,” he said. “Mr. President, you might relate a little bit to that.”

“I can relate to that,” Obama said, to laughter. “I don’t know how you did five. Two keeps me busy.”

Standing in the gymnasium of the East End Family Resource Center, amid a crowd that included West Virginia’s governor and two U.S. senators, David Grubb told the president about the last time he was in that room.

Jessie, his second daughter, was a cheerleader at Roosevelt Junior High School, before the school closed and the building became a police station and community center.

“She made good grades. She was socially involved. Her future was bright,” David Grubb told the president.

Jessie Grubb was featured in a story in last week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail. An ex-boyfriend introduced her to heroin about seven years ago. He died of an overdose in 2010.

She has been struggling ever since — through three rounds of rehab, “a couple good years,” and an overdose in August, where CPR from her mother and a dose of naloxone from EMTs saved her life.

She’s now in rehab for a fourth time, out-of-state.

“It usually takes more than one time, and we think this one will be the one,” David Grubb told the president. “We are full of hope.”

Obama was empathetic.

Having children is “like having your heart walking around outside your body,” Obama said. “All you care about is making sure they’re OK. But they’re so vulnerable. And you’re just, as a parent, always navigating, just trying to figure out, ‘how do I make sure they’re going to be OK.’”

He thanked David Grubb and others for telling their stories of addiction.

“It will save lives,” Obama said. “These things could happen to any of us.”

David Grubb asked how we can address the dearth of drug abuse treatment facilities, so that people like his daughter can get help closer to home.

On that, Obama said, the answers won’t come quite as quickly. He said that both parties are to blame for “wanting to look tough” on drugs in the past and putting more and more people in jail for drug crimes. And he said both parties are starting to realize that was an error.

He noted that his proposed budget contains a new $133 million for drug prevention and treatment programs. That budget, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, has no chance of passage.

“We’re at the stage now where people are starting to realize that we need more treatment,” Obama said. “But the budgets are not yet reflective of that awareness. And that’s going to require Congress.”

Quick solutions or not, David Grubb said he was encouraged and excited by the president’s visit.

“He seemed genuine; he seemed sincere; he seemed like he really cared,” David Grubb said. “There’s just such an awareness mushrooming around this issue.”

But still, in the afterglow of the president’s visit, the hard work of recovery remains ahead.

David Grubb hopes that sharing his family’s story will help others with the fight. It helped him to listen to Cary Dixon, another mother dealing with her child’s addiction, tell her story to the president.

“It’s like she lived our lives,” David Grubb said. “Just to know that we’re not alone.”

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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