Woman Whose Addiction Story Reached Obama Dies of Painkiller Overdose

By May Wilkerson 03/30/16

Jessica Grubb became a national symbol after her parents shared her addiction struggle with President Obama at a forum last October.

Woman Whose Addiction Story Reached Obama Dies of Painkiller Overdose
Photo viaYouTube

Five months after the story of her heroin addiction became known across the country after it was relayed to President Obama at a town hall, Jessica Grubb of Charleston, West Virginia, died earlier this month from a painkiller overdose. She was 30.

In October, during a visit to Charleston to discuss the opioid epidemic, Obama first learned about Jessica when her parents (with her permission) told her story during a community forum as she watched it via livestream. Grubb’s story made an impact on the president, and he often mentioned her and her family whenever he would discuss opioid use and addiction.

In late February, the Huffington Post published an article about Obama and the Grubb family, just two weeks before Jessica died. Many would assume her death was caused by heroin, said her father, David. But she died from an overdose of oxycodone, which she had been prescribed by a doctor for an unrelated surgery. And she had left the hospital with an IV port to pump antibiotics into her arm, despite her parents' objections.

“To us that was a real concern. When an IV drug user has easy access like that, it’s just scary,” David told the Huffington Post. “Jessie still had that addict’s brain. I think it was just too much temptation for her to resist.” She was found dead in her home two days later on March 3rd; the cause of death was ruled “oxycodone toxicity.”

Jessica got introduced to heroin while visiting home in West Virginia during college. Before that, she was “an incredible achiever, she made straight-As, she was smart as a whip, involved in social change,” her father said. But when she discovered heroin, “all her problems went away and she didn’t feel any pain.” During her seven-year battle with addiction that followed, Jessica was in and out of rehab.

Her death highlights the importance of educating medical professionals on treating people with addiction. “If you’re allergic to penicillin, that goes on your record, and if a doctor comes in later and tries to write a prescription for penicillin, it’s blocked, you can’t do it,” said David. “And the same is true with drugs that interact with one another improperly. Anytime you do that, it’s part of the medical records and they’re all electronic.”

But this isn’t the case for opioids. Many medical schools don’t offer in-depth education about addiction, and being an addict in recovery is not routinely regarded as a pre-existing medical condition. Hopefully, this will change. On Tuesday, Obama traveled to Atlanta for his second major address on the opioid crisis, where he announced significant policy changes aimed at helping people overcome addiction before it’s too late.

The Grubb family has received condolence letters from across the country, including one from the Obamas. “Michelle and I want to offer our deepest condolences for the tragic loss of Jessie,” Obama wrote. “Your willingness to share your family’s story left a powerful impression on me and has helped accelerate efforts to deal with this national epidemic of addiction.”

Check out this video of David Grubb sharing Jessica's story at the opioid abuse forum: 

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.