August 17, 2016
As some already know, In January 2009, I started the ministry work of publicly speaking out on the crisis we have in America called Chronic Addiction and Overdose Deaths. I knew that my journey with my daughter (from the beginning of her life to the end) was allowed by God for a purpose.
The Jennifer Act started because addiction affected my family. My daughter, Jennifer suffered with a disease, called chronic opiate addiction. For 13 years, Jennifer was addicted to prescription medication and died as a direct result of an accidental multi-drug toxicity, January 15, 2009 in Pinellas County, Largo, Florida.
Addiction is a family disease because everyone in the family is affected by their loved one’s addiction. Parents, siblings and the addict’s own children are affected as well. When a loved one is addicted, if affects relationships. Friends don’t know how to deal with the person who is now “changed and “different” because their brain has been high-jacketed by chemicals that affect certain parts of the brain. They act out with irrational behavior, at times and due to their chronic state of mine, resort to criminal behavior to get the drug their brain and body is craving. The person who once was, is no longer. A different person evolves and emerges and manifests in many different ways. This results in broken ties with friends and family.
When my daughter’s addiction was discovered, I knew very little about chronic addiction, heroin, opiate pain medication, relapse or overdose. All I knew was my child was addicted and I needed to do something to aid her getting the treatment that she needed. I became not only her mother but her advocate (fighting to save her life). There were many attempts to do this, from filing five Involuntary Commitment petitions in Florida courts and begging Judges to court order substance treatment for Jennifer because it was clear, on her own, she could not stop the chronic drug use on her own without professional help. Jennifer repeatedly fell through the cracks of the “Florida court system”. I pleaded with three different Florida Judges (Pinellas County, Hillsborough County and Hardee County) to help her or she would die.
While in a treatment center, Jennifer called to tell me she was pregnant. Jennifer returned home during her pregnancy and birth of her only son. Trey Andrew Reynolds was born, June 11, 2001 in Pinellas County, Florida. I became not only his grandmother and caregiver, but also his “legal guardian” when Jennifer relapsed again. It was several years after his birth, that it was revealed the identity of Trey’s father. His father (a prominent Florida Attorney) was absent from his life and so was his mother (off and on) due to the disease of addiction. In spite of all of the obstacles, I was determined to make sure Trey was safe, had a normal infancy, toddlerhood and early childhood. Fast forward, the father decided to be a father when Trey was 5 1/2 years old and came to get him. This separation was very difficult and the transition was hard for Trey and our family. Jennifer’s addiction was spiraling out of control and I was frantically advocating for help for her before she died. I felt hopeless to save her and no one seemed to see the life and death crisis and intervene. I lie in bed many, many nights, full of fear and waiting for the phone to ring or a knock on the door telling me Jennifer had died. That became reality on January 15, 2009. A Largo Sheriff came to our home and told me Jennifer had died and was at Largo Medical Hospital. My heart sank. I went into complete shock and screamed and cried. It was the worst day of my life, besides telling Trey goodbye when he went to live with his father. Immediately after Jennifer’s death, Trey’s father informed us we (maternal grandparents and family) would no longer be in Trey’s life. Again, more pain. As of today, August 16, 2016) I have not been allowed to see, call, write or communicate with my grandson, Trey. He is age 15 now. I wait for the day that my precious grandson, Trey, contacts me so we can sit down and share the years that have been lost from our separation.
I decided to take all of the experiences (and pain) of the past 13 years and use it as a positive change for others families who are suffering with a loved one’s addiction. I started by addressing the Florida Marchman Act and listed 9 ways to amend/improve this system to help others who will also “fall through the cracks”. After all, I knew all about locating treatment centers, the high cost of treatment centers, waiting for a “bed to be available”, the “phone intake process”, “multiple relapses”, the judicial system, etc.I knew all about grandparents raising grandchildren, setting healthy boundaries, enabling, co-dependency and so, so, so much more.
I contacted my Florida lawmaker in Pinellas County and asked my Senator to work on these nine issues to improve Florida’s weak law for the purpose of saving lives. This process evolved over the years to me lobbying many different Florida lawmakers (State Senators & State Representatives) to draft bill language over seven years. I also lobbied The Jennifer Act in the state of Indiana as well, because we have homes in both states. In 2015, The Jennifer Act bill (Indiana House Bill 1448) (Representative Steve Davisson) passed and was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence, July 1, 2015. n Florida it was much harder and much more complicating. My bill was dissected and divided over those seven years into different sections and different Florid a Senators and State Representatives took pieces of my bill and added them to their bills. The final bill (Florida Senate Bill 1336) (Senator Jack Latvala) was amended to (Florida Senate Bill 12) (Senator Garcia) and it passed, April, 2016 and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in May 2016.
During the past seven and a half years, I have been a community health speaker, not only for laws to aid those suffering with addiction, but also am a frequent speaker doing drug education presentations in schools and churches and other events. I also speak at Candle Vigils every year for lives lost to drug overdoses. I am NOT a Not-for-profit organization.
For 2016-2017, my focus (now that legislation goals have been met), is directed on Drug Prevention and Education. I support Task Forces, support other coalition groups, recovery centers and share Jennifer story to other impressionable teens and middle school age students to remind them that experimenting with drugs can lead to addiction which can lead to premature death.
The vision of The Jennifer Act has not wavered because I know this is right where God wants me. He uses my voice and my passion to lead others away from destruction. Life takes us on a journey with it’s destination unknown. I trust this path that God has me on and look forward to what lies around the bend.
Founder of The Jennifer Act