Feb. 28, 2017, I shared my testimony at the Rayburn Building, in Washington, D.C. at the 144aday Congressional Hearing: In Cooperation with the Addiction, Treatment & Recovery Caucus, General Barry McCaffrey and the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. I also met with Congressmen Trey Hollingsworth and Senator Joe Donnelly and spoke with others members of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. I met with 500 families from across the U.S.on Capitol Hill, whose families have been affected by addiction and overdose deaths. (*photos below- I am on row 2 holding 2 pictures of my daughter, Jennifer Reynolds).**copy & paste this link in your browser to watch the video:https://youtu.be/euuT_-8PzTA?list=PLKYBcsTobTalb1Lh1vtlMXS4FKNKrJ9bBThis is my testimony shared at the Hearing:My Biography:My name is Sharon Blair. I am a Public Health Advocate. My educational background is in Early Child Development and teaching. In memory of my daughter, Jennifer, I was inspired to dedicate my life to a personal mission, to focus my time, energy and efforts on Drug Prevention, Education and Legislation in IN & FL and on Federal legislation (CARA).
I am frequently invited to speak and do presentations at candle vigils for those who have lost lives to overdose. I share in schools, in churches, treatment centers, organizations and at other convocations. I speak on the topic of substance addiction and work with lawmakers in Indiana and Florida, sharing my testimony in House and Senate Chambers- addressing legislation to save lives and aid treatment services.
In 2016, I worked with Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Task Force Members on addressing the substance addiction crisis in Indiana. I am the Founder of The Jennifer Act- (Indiana House Bill 1448) legislation passed July 1, 2015- signed by then Governor Mike Pence. This bill (provides treatment to those substance addicted). I also advocated for Florida Senate Bill 12 (Mental Health & Substance Abuse), which passed in 2016.Recently, Feb.14, 2017, I testified to the Indiana Senate Committee Members in support of Indiana Senator Jeff Raatz legislation- SB499 to address the overdose crisis, naloxone and add a new Chapter- 12-23-21 Pilot Program to address Involuntary Commitment. I also support Indiana Senator Jim Merritt and Rep. Steve Davisson legislation addressing SUD and the heroin crisis in our state of Indiana.——————————
Jennifer’s story/ obstacles getting substance treatment:My daughter, Jennifer Reynolds suffered for over a decade with a chronic opioid addiction and died,Jan.15, 2009 (at age 29) of an accidental prescription drug overdose, in Largo, Florida as a direct result of her disease.Jennifer was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis (severe curvature of the spine), which resulted in a very serious back surgery (spinal fusion). She was put on morphine for 10 days for pain and prescribed opioid pain medication to control pain. I believe this was the beginning of her second disease- a substance use disorder.
After I discovered my daughter Jennifer was addicted to opiates (prescription drugs & heroin), I reached out to our Governor in Florida, Governor Jeb Bush, for help. I explained to Governor Bush that his daughter, Noelle, and my daughter, Jennifer, both suffered from the same thing- a chronic addiction to prescription medication. He put me in touch with Florida Office of Drug Control’s Director- James McDonough, to see if he could assist me.
A brief background- Jeb Bush’s daughter, Noelle, committed an offense in Florida, which landed her in front of a Judge, (just like my daughter, Jennifer), (who had a driving under the influence of substance charge). Noelle Bush was fortunate. The court intervened, Noelle Bush’s drug addiction was recognized and addressed by a Judge (early on) and she was court ordered to an 18 month, residential drug treatment program in Orlando, FL. By receiving court ordered intervention and substance treatment, Noelle is alive today and lives in recovery.
I filed 5 Involuntary Commitment petitions (court intervention) in the Florida courts (in three counties) for my daughter. She fell through the cracks of the judicial system each time. I pleaded with the last Judge in Clearwater, FL, (sobbed and begged) for court ordered long term treatment and expressed that my child would die without this intervention to save her life. Jennifer’s brain was high-jacked by opiates, and on her own (will power)- could NOT stop the powerful cravings her brain was telling her she needed to survive another day. After repeated attempts for emergency intervention for my daughter, Jennifer- she died, alone of an opioid overdose a few months later in Largo, FL on Jan.15, 2009.
Those suffering with a substance use disorder in the beginning stages and receiving treatment, have a much better chance of surviving (vs) those who suffer long term, from the chronic disease.
Jennifer was a mother to her only son, Trey, who now is left without his mother. I lost my beloved daughter, my other 3 children lost their sister to a chronic, devastating disease.
(SUD) Substance use disorder is a “family disease” because everyone suffers.
Key Issues for Congress to Address: (Including Funding)
Substance Use Disorders impact every community in the United States. 26 million people are currently in active addiction, with 23 million people living in recovery. Everyday, 144 Americans die from a drug overdose. Left untreated, there are two outcomes: death or incarceration.
We must identify substance use as a “mental health disorder”, know the characteristics and signs of addiction and expand prevention and education efforts aimed at teens, parents and in school prevention programs. As a long running volunteer for The Jennifer Act, I share Jennifer’s story and volunteer by partnering with organizations such as Red Ribbon Week, Safe Place, NOPE Task Force and Shatterproof, to name a few.
I personally ask your boss to help Congress to fully appropriate funds for CARA and support addiction resources. I support a comprehensive approach and ask for your support, which includes:
treatment, prevention, overdose reversal, recovery support, law enforcement strategies and criminal justice reform.
The majority of people in prison and jail have a substance use disorder, but only a fraction of the people who need services for SUD, receive it. Diverting individuals charged with non-violet, addiction related crimes into treatment or other programs for SUD is more compassionate and cost-effective.
I ask for Members of Congress to sign onto the letter requesting full funding for all 34 addiction programs, circulated by Congressman Tim Ryan.
In the event of a health care reform, please continue to cover substance use disorder, which has allowed 1.6 million people struggling with the disease to access treatment through Medicaid expansion. I am also personally calling on Congress to recognize that growing bipartisan consensus that IMD Exclusion be repealed in order to expand access to treatment for those individuals struggling with substance use disorder.
In our country, those suffering with mental health disorders and substance use disorders are stigmatized, labeled and shamed and family members are embarrassed to speak up and suffer in silence. After watching my daughter, Jennifer suffer and die, I decided to publicly speak about what happened to my daughter, and the pain our family endured.
I am available to work with (and testify) to support members of congress and the Task Force, speak with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others, to address this epidemic that is killing a generation of our youth. I am an advocate, so please contact me, if I can be of assistance.
Together, we can all do our part to give HOPE to families, help our communities, our states and our country be a better place for all to thrive and live healthy, productive lives. It is my prayer, that Jennifer’s life will bring awareness to this disease and help save other lives. —
Sharon Blair (Jennifer’s Mother)