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Joe Manchin, David and Kate Grubb: Jessie’s Law a step closer to saving lives

By By Sen. Joe Manchin and David and Kate Grubb

Parents never expect to outlive their children. When we spoke to our daughter Jessie on the evening of March 1, we were excited to hear that her hip surgery went well. Jessie traveled a rough path fighting her opioid addiction. But the future was looking bright. Sober and living on her own, Jessie was on track to getting her life back. To our shock, we never knew March 1 would be the last time we ever spoke to our daughter.

Jessie had been to rehab four times previously and had spent seven years battling her opioid addiction. We knew after her fourth attempt, things were going to be different. Filled with life and a new sense of purpose, Jessie moved to Michigan. We raised Jessie and her four sisters in Charleston. We are a close family, and Jessie, our second oldest, made us very proud. She excelled in school, scoring in the 99th percentile on all her tests. She participated in (and loved) local theater and became an avid runner.

When President Obama came to West Virginia in October 2015, we knew we had to tell Jessie’s story and recount the incredible difficulty we experienced finding help for her addiction. At this point, Jessie was already living in Michigan. We asked her if we could share her story and she absolutely agreed. The President was touched, and after his visit to Charleston, we were relieved to learn that the administration stepped up its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Jessie, and so many victims like her, were going to get the treatment they so desperately needed.

In the winter of 2016, Jessie was training for a marathon. She began to feel a pain in her hip and had it checked out. It was an infection traveling to her bone, and surgery was needed. Her surgery put a delay in her training, but she was anxious to get back outside and run. Unfortunately, that marathon never came. After surgery, the discharging doctor gave her the usual prescription after surgery — 50 pills of oxycodone. This was like giving a loaded gun to a person who is suicidal.

After her death, we had so many questions. We knew she had taken the pills, but what we didn’t know is why she was given them in the first place. Jessie specifically informed her treating physicians and nurses that she was a recovering addict. We did, too. As a result, this key fact was recorded no less than eight times in her medical record. Unfortunately, and tragically, it was not displayed prominently. As a result, the discharging doctor told us afterward that he had no idea she was a recovering addict. It was an oversight. A simple mistake that cost our daughter her life.

We knew that something had to be done.

— David and Kate Grubb

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When I heard of Jessie’s death, I was devastated. I’ve known David and Kate for many years but had no idea his daughter was dealing with such a horrible disease. I watched David and Kate courageously stand up in front of President Obama and tell their daughter’s story. So when I heard about Jessie’s death, I knew the Grubbs needed as much support as possible.

David told me what happened at the hospital. Buried in Jessie’s medical record were multiple notes on her addiction history. Yes, she told the doctors and nurses she was a recovering from opioid abuse, but that information was never passed on to her discharging physician. When I heard this, I told David that Jessie’s death would not be in vain. And this week, Jessie’s Law passed the Senate. The House of Representatives still must pass this legislation before the President can sign it into law, but I will be working with the Grubbs and my House colleagues to make sure that happens.

Through Jessie’s Law, physicians are going to be better prepared to deal with the medical records of recovering addicts, and make sure to not mistakenly assist in a relapse by prescribing opioid medication. Jessie’s death was preventable, and thanks to the work done by the Grubb family and my colleagues, we are one step closer to closing the loophole that prevents physicians from disclosing substance abuse information to other doctors.

It’s been a long road passing this legislation in the Senate, but now Jessie’s tragedy, a tragedy not uncommon for those suffering from substance abuse, can be prevented for individuals seeking medical attention who also suffer from opioid addiction.

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to David and Kate for their bravery and for allowing me to be a part of this effort. Jessie’s young life was ended due to a preventable error. Although she will never get to run her marathon, we will continue racing to try to help people struggling with substance abuse and making sure they are protected and taken care of throughout their recovery.

— Sen. Joe Manchin

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Jessie was both compassionate and a strong advocate for social justice. When we discussed our growing concern about what would happen to Emma, Jessie’s autistic younger sister, when we were no longer able to care for her, Jessie said not to worry: she would do it. As a result of her death, however, we have accelerated our efforts to find a solution.

After a great deal of research and visiting housing programs in different parts of the country, we decided to work toward establishing a residential community for adults with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. We are calling it “Jessa’s Place.”

In June, we launched the pilot project in Charleston’s East End: a home for three autistic adults, including Emma, where they can live and thrive. But the ultimate goal is much bigger. The eventual “Jessa’s Place” will involve several houses and will be integrated with another crucial project that we are working on and supporting: the T-Center (the “T” stands for treatment).

This will be a state-of-the-art, patient-centered and restorative program for individuals and families dealing with substance abuse disorder throughout the Appalachian region. Our hope is that through Jessie’s Law, Jessa’s Place, and the T-Center, Jessie’s life and legacy will live on and will improve people’s lives just as she tried to do when she was with us.

Thanks to the work of Sen. Joe Manchin and his colleagues in the Senate, physicians and hospitals will improve their communications efforts regarding recovering opioid abusers. We believe this will, literally, save lives. And while this is a step in the right direction, there is much more that remains to be done. We will continue to work together to ensure that Jessie’s Law is passed in the House and, ultimately, is signed into law.

— David and Kate Grubb

Joe Manchin is a U.S. senator and former governor. David Grubb, a lawyer and former state lawmaker, and his wife Kate are parents of four children, including Jessica Grubb, who died of a prescription drug overdose in 2016.

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