For Jennifer's Legacy: Losing My Daughter To Addiction Pushed Me To Advocacy

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For Jennifer's Legacy: Losing My Daughter To Addiction Pushed Me To Advocacy

By Sharon Blair 05/05/16

Jennifer’s legacy is directly helping others who are struggling with addiction and preventing substance abuse with education.

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For Jennifer's Legacy: Losing My Daughter To Addiction Pushed Me To Advocacy
Sharon Blair with her daughter Jennifer Reynolds via author

My daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, died on January 15, 2009. She had just turned 29 years old. 

Autopsy findings from Jennifer’s medical examiner reported that her manner of death was an accidental overdose. Her cause of death was multi-drug toxicity.

In our family, Jennifer has one older brother, Josh, a younger sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Nate. She was a great daughter, loving sister, and a wonderful friend to many. 

Jennifer had lots of friends, was very active and loved swimming, roller-skating and church activities. In middle school, she was a cheerleader and played softball. She was outgoing, popular and had many friends. 

After a routine physical for middle school, the doctor discovered Jen had scoliosis. This was a severe blow to her. She took this news very hard. She was entering her teen years, with an active life and all of this came to a halt with the discovery of her diagnosis of scoliosis. This disease required wearing a full body brace made of plastic 23 hours a day for over a year under her clothes. This was to keep her spine from further curving to a crippling state. She hated wearing this brace, looking different and being different from all of her friends.

She had to stop doing her normal hobbies and activities. Her friends' lives were moving forward but Jen’s life had changed. Even with the orthopedic brace and closely monitored exams at Shriner's hospital, Jen’s spine continued to curve at an alarming rate. She had to have a very serious surgery, a spinal fusion at age 12. She was in intensive care for three days. 

She was put on IV morphine to manage her pain. This was her first opportunity to have opiate pain medication.  Jennifer continued into high school, an active person, involved in art, student government and cheerleading.  

She was a compassionate daughter, sister and friend—always willing to help others and counsel her friends. 

For some reason, (maybe peer pressure) Jennifer decided to hang with the “cool” crowd. She dumped her old friends and started hanging with the cool kids. Unknown to me, Jennifer started going to rave clubs, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. She then moved on to experimenting with drugs (prescription pills & heroin). She ended up addicted to those drugs. She battled her addiction for 13 years.

How ironic, she would end up struggling with an addiction that came to rule her life. It was heartbreaking, watching her addiction progress. She was in-and-out of drug treatment facilities and jail. I fought hard to save her life.

The day that changed my life was January 15, 2009, when a deputy sheriff came to our home and knocked on the door to deliver the devastating news that Jennifer had died. 

The impact of losing Jennifer has devastated and affected our family forever! My other children have been deeply affected by the loss of their sister and Jennifer’s only son, Trey, has lost his mother. Everyone in our family has suffered greatly! They say addiction is a “family disease.” Now I know how true this statement is.

In memory of Jennifer, I have dedicated the past seven and a half years to working on prevention, education and legislation. I do frequent guest speaking, doing candle vigils for those who have lost lives to overdose; I speak in schools, churches and other organizations; I work with lawmakers and task force members on The Jennifer Act mission—legislation that will provide treatment to those substance-addicted. The best hope of survival for those addicted is intervention and treatment.

My heart is in prevention and education because I know children and pre-teens are going to be peer pressured into trying substances such as prescription pills, alcohol, smoking pot, tobacco and other illegal drugs. My goal is to share Jennifer’s story with them and by doing so, give them a clear picture that their choices have consequences, which can ultimately end their life.

I give the students a bookmark I made, which says: “Drugs will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.” I ask them to keep it until they finish school and read it often. I also bring educational handouts on all substances for the students to take home and read with their parents or guardians. 

The Jennifer Act was introduced by Indiana State Senator Vi Simpson for two years as Senate Bill 380, Senate Bill 22 and finally passed March 9, 2012, as Indiana Senate ConCurrent Resolution No. 7 (SCR7). However, SCR 7 did not produce a favorable outcome as we had hoped.  

I contacted Representative Steve Davisson in 2014 about drafting a new bill to work on language to facilitate substance treatment services for those addicted and shared my mission to save lives and past efforts working with lawmakers. He graciously agreed to draft bill language for 2014-2015 session. This bill is HB1448. With much work, dedication and effort on Rep. Davisson’s part, HB1448 passed in the House & Senate on April 14, 2015. It was not the full bill package we wanted, but we were both very pleased to see progress for those suffering with a chronic addiction. I am hopeful that this bill is a “work in progress” and additional pieces can be added in the upcoming session. 

In Florida, The Jennifer Act bill was introduced for three years by Senator Jack Latvala. This year’s bill (Senate Bill 1336) was amended to Senator Garcia’s Mental Health & Substance Abuse bill (Senate Bill 12), which passed in March and is awaiting Gov. Scott’s signature. 

According to the CDC, everyday 100 people in the U.S. die from overdose of prescription pain medication and many more become addicted. Indiana has The Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment & Prevention and the Attorney General’s Prescription Abuse Task Force, both which are working on combating the epidemic that has plagued our state. As of today, we have 188 confirmed cases of HIV (many from Scott County, IN) from IV heroin use and a heroin epidemic in Indiana.

God has a mission for me to do. I am proud to serve God with The Jennifer Act ministry. This is all 100% volunteer. I do not receive any money and am not a non-for-profit. Jennifer’s legacy is directly helping others who are struggling with addiction and preventing substance abuse with education.  

Sharon Blair is a volunteer Social Justice Advocate. Her mission is focused on substance prevention & education and she advocates for legislation (The Jennifer Act) in Florida (SB12) & Indiana (HB1448). Website: www.thejenniferact.com

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