POLITICS

The Woman Whose Addiction Story Shook Obama Now Has A Bill In Her Name

Jessie's Law tries to make a patient's addiction history more widely known to his or her physicians.

WASHINGTON -- The young woman whose story of heroin addiction and subsequent death compelled President Barack Obama to sharpen his focus on the epidemic has inspired new legislation in Congress. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced Jessie's Law, a bill named after Jessica Grubb and designed to try to prevent the circumstances that led to her death from occurring elsewhere.

The legislation seeks to make it harder for physicians to unknowingly prescribe large quantities of opioid medication to recovering addicts. It does so by expanding the universe of people who can provide consent for a patient's substance abuse records to be disclosed to their physicians. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a standard policy to include a patient's history of opioid addiction in medical records if that consent has been given.

Manchin touted the merits of the legislation during a press conference on Wednesday, saying it was a "common sense" reform in treatment of opioid addicts. "We are going to eliminate that from ever happening again, when the parents and the person who is being cared for both agree that we want this to be known so that we don't end up with something we shouldn't have." But while the senator said he expected large bipartisan support and quick passage, he also seemed to acknowledge that the bill will be met with skepticism by patient privacy advocates who have long argued that a person's medical choices and history are proprietary.

WASHINGTON -- The young woman whose story of heroin addiction and subsequent death compelled President Barack Obama to sharpen his focus on the epidemic has inspired new legislation in Congress. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced Jessie's Law, a bill named after Jessica Grubb and designed to try to prevent the circumstances that led to her death from occurring elsewhere.

The legislation seeks to make it harder for physicians to unknowingly prescribe large quantities of opioid medication to recovering addicts. It does so by expanding the universe of people who can provide consent for a patient's substance abuse records to be disclosed to their physicians. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a standard policy to include a patient's history of opioid addiction in medical records if that consent has been given.

Manchin touted the merits of the legislation during a press conference on Wednesday, saying it was a "common sense" reform in treatment of opioid addicts. "We are going to eliminate that from ever happening again, when the parents and the person who is being cared for both agree that we want this to be known so that we don't end up with something we shouldn't have." But while the senator said he expected large bipartisan support and quick passage, he also seemed to acknowledge that the bill will be met with skepticism by patient privacy advocates who have long argued that a person's medical choices and history are proprietary.

Manchin's role in shepherding Jessie's Law through Congress is multi-faceted. As a senator from one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, he has been exploring multiple legislative vehicles to reorient how the medical community is treating addiction and addicts. But he also has a personal tie to this specific bill. He served alongside Grubb's father, David, in the state senate and the two have kept in close touch since Jessica's death. In mid April, he spoke on the senate floor about her story and advocated for changes that he has since written into legislative language.

“You can’t throw that temptation at an addict," Manchin said then. "There is no way for them to handle it. It is done. It is over.”

It is in large part because of her father's ties to the world of West Virginia politics that Jessica's story had such a profound impact. When Obama visited Charleston, West Virginia last October, David Grubb explained to him in horrifying detail the circumstances that led to his daughter's fourth stint in rehab.

“We found her in her bedroom, tourniquet on her arm, syringe next to her,” Grubb said at the town hall. "She was already turning blue. My wife administered CPR.  We called 911. While we were waiting, I held her and said, ‘Don’t leave us yet.’”

Aides to Obama subsequently said the president was struck by the fact that the family of an elected official could be afflicted by such an ordeal. It was a lightbulb moment, said one White House official, when the pervasiveness of the heroin problem dawned on him.

He got very emotional,” the official said. “You’re in this deep-red [conservative] environment, but people are just opening up their hearts on this. [The president] sort of was taken aback at how candid people were talking about this.”

Jessie only lived to be almost 31 years old. But how many people if they lived to be 100, can actually say that their lives prevented deaths? David Grubb, Jessica's father.

Jessica Grubb watched that moment on a live stream feed on her laptop. She was in Michigan, where she had moved for a residential drug rehab program. She stayed in the area through the new year. But in the winter of 2016, she developed an infection in her hip bone -- a byproduct of her intense jogging -- and went in for surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.

When she was discharged, she was given a prescription for 50 pills of Oxycodone, a powerful opioid pain medication, as well as a central catheter port in her arm, to manage her care. She died on March 3 from an Oxycodone overdose. The discharging doctor would later tell David Grubb he did not know about her addiction history. 

David Grubb and his wife stood alongside Manchin and fellow West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) on Wednesday at the Capitol Building to introduce the law bearing his daughter's name.

"The one thing that we have said over and over again is, 'Okay, Jessie only lived to be almost 31 years old. But how many people, if they lived to be 100, can actually say that their lives prevented deaths? Jessie's life can have meaning. She can prevent future death," he said, fighting back tears.  

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