By Senator Joe Manchin
Before Jessie Grubb’s life was taken over by addiction in 2009, Jessie’s future was bright. She was a beloved daughter to David and Kate Grubb, a beloved sister to her four sisters, and a beloved friend to 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. 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 at Asheville. During her first semester, she was sexually assaulted, which caused 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, would overdose four times and go into rehab four times. But in March 2016, she had been sober for 6 months, was focused on making a life for herself in Michigan and was training for a marathon. After sustaining a running related injury she had to undergo surgery for an infection. Her parents traveled to Michigan for Jessie’s surgery and told her doctors and hospital personnel that she was a recovering addict. 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. She died the next day. And all of her hard work was ruined because of a careless mistake.
Jessie’s death is particularly heartbreaking because it was 100 percent preventable. She should have never been given a prescription for opioid medication. And we must ensure that this never happens again. That is why a year ago after her death I introduced “Jessie’s Law” and why I reintroduced it in the new Congress.
Her story with addiction is known to many. Her father David, a former West Virginia state legislator, shared their family’s struggle with addiction with President Obama when he came to Charleston to bring attention to the growing opioid epidemic. Jessie’s story led to policy changes by the administration to help us fight this crisis. But the bottom line is that we need to go at this problem from every angle and with the help of everyone – family assistance, counseling programs, drug courts, consumer and medical education, law enforcement support, state and federal legislation – everything.
West Virginia has been hit the hardest by this opioid epidemic, where drug overdose deaths have soared by more than 700 percent between 1999 and 2013. We lost 627 West Virginians to opioids last year alone. Boone County has the third highest rate prescription drug overdose rate in the country. For every 100,000 county residents, an average of 43 people died of prescription drug overdose each year over the last 16 years. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, one reason the state program that helps low-income families pay for burials is almost out of money is because overdose deaths in our state are so frequent.
With tireless work from everyone and renewed support from Congress and the new Trump Administration, we can beat this epidemic once and for all. Jessie’s death is heartbreaking and reminds us all that we all know someone who has been impacted by the opioid epidemic and that they are who we are fighting for.
Joe Manchin is a Democratic Senator from West Virginia.