In West Virginia, we know firsthand the devastation that opioids and substance use disorder has had on our families and communities. Too many of our children, siblings, parents and friends have lost their battle as a result of these terrible drugs that have invaded our state. These highly addictive opioids have resulted in life-long battles with substance use disorder.
One of those West Virginians who lost her battle, despite her and her family’s best efforts, was Jessica Grubb. Jessie was a 30-year old West Virginian in recovery from substance use disorder who had moved to Michigan to restart her life as a sober member of society. Jessie had been clean for six months and was getting ready to run a marathon, when she sustained a running-related injury and would need surgery to correct. When she went in for the surgery, she and her family informed multiple doctors and hospital officials that she had substance use disorder and to not prescribe her any opioids. Upon discharge, her discharging physician unknowingly prescribed her with 50 hydrocodone because he did not have access to her entire medical record. She died of an overdose the very next day. Jessie’s death was 100 percent preventable and she should have never been prescribed opioids.
In the years since her tragic passing, I worked with her parents David and Kate Grubb to pass Jessie’s Law, legislation which will help hospitals and medical professionals better treat patients with a history of opioid addiction, if the patient provides that information. This bill will help prevent tragic events like the death of Jessica Grubb by providing physicians and other medical professionals with this information at every step of a patient’s care, enabling them to consider the patient’s addiction when determining appropriate medical care.
But more needs to be done. That’s why last week I re-introduced the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act (Legacy Act). The Legacy Act would update and modernize existing privacy regulations surrounding medical records for those suffering with substance use disorder. This bill would save lives by making sure that medical providers do not accidentally give opioids to individuals in recovery, like in the case of Jessica Grubb.
Substance use disorder doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, rich or poor, or where you live. That’s why we need a holistic approach to fight this epidemic and we must come at it from every angle in order to end it. Even though we’ve made great strides in combatting this crisis, we need more funding, stricter laws and more education to help Americans into recovery, make opioids less accessible and end the stigma. Passing the Legacy Act into law, will honor Jessie’s memory and make sure that no one else dies in similar circumstances. I will be fighting, alongside her parents, to pass this bill into law as soon as possible.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is the state's senior senator.