When Sharon Blair, formerly of Bloomington, was told her daughter Jennifer Reynolds had died of a drug overdose in Florida, she was numb. She had shed many tears during the long and exhausting fight to save the 13-year drug addict. Jennifer was only 29 when she died in 2009.
Blair, who now lives in Spencer, said Jennifer tried to beat her addictions, but could not, of her own will, lead a life without drugs.
Also, like many parents of adult children who die from drug abuse, Blair and her husband have been denied visitation with their grandson by the other parent. They served as his legal guardians for five years — and so their pain is doubled.
Blair is the author of The Jennifer Act, Indiana Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 7, which amends and strengthens Indiana’s existing involuntary commitment legislation. She has worked for eight years advocating for the movement and also testified this year at the Indiana Statehouse in favor of SB 499, which allows for pilot programs in three counties: Marion, Tippecanoe and Wayne. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law on April 21.
Blair has become an unpaid volunteer and resource for the state, trying to help desperate families seeking solutions for their addicts. They try to intervene with rehabs, but these are expensive and the addicts don’t have to stay unless they’ve been charged with a crime and are in a diversion program to avoid jail and a criminal record.
“Most people don’t know about the existing legislation, and I found that it was difficult to use,” Blair said. “I tried to help a friend in Morgan County who wanted to use the law. She called three lawyers and none would take the case because it was hard to bring about.”
Blair wanted parents, relatives and spouses of addicts who were dangerous to themselves and others to intervene and obtain power of attorney to commit them to treatment — just as in the case of someone who was mentally ill.
Blair advocated for the amendment in two states, Florida and Indiana. But she would like to see other states follow suit.
She worked with former Senators John Waterman (R-Dist. 39), Vi Simpson (D-Dist. 40), former Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Dist. 60) and current Rep. Steve Davisson (R-Dist. 73), who finally succeeded in getting it passed in 2015.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” Blair said. “But we got two big components: funding for in-house detox programs through Medicaid and education on Indiana’s commitment legislation for the public, judges, attorneys and law enforcement.”
The Jennifer Act calls for the Commission on Mental Health and Addiction to examine the issue of involuntary commitment of persons with substance abuse disorders, along with the commission to make recommendations accordingly.
People in Florida currently have the Marchman Act, but Blair said it does little more than keep the addicts for 72 hours to do a drug assessment. Then they are released back out on the streets.
“As we all know, 72 hours cannot free someone from the bonds of addiction,” Blair said. “Also it can cost up to $400 (in Pinellas County) to file a Marchman Act on someone, depending on the county. Many people cannot afford to pay this fee, especially for such a short-lived result like only 72 hours off the streets.
“I wanted people in the courts and the government to get that this is a disease — it affects the whole family. We’ve been punishing addicts by putting them in jail. Our jails are full of them, but the drug epidemic is only spreading. The courts need to work with addicts to get them long-term treatment. Most people can’t beat the disease on their own.”
Treating addicts is also a cheaper option for states. According to information in The Jennifer Act, the costs to corrections and the judiciary associated with substance use in Indiana during 2008 were estimated to be $1.3 billion and healthcare costs associated with substance use were estimated to be $4.8 billion.
But cost benefit analyses of treatment programs showed that every dollar spent on treatment resulted in an average of $7 saved in benefits. These included increased employment, fewer medical expenses and decreased crime.
Drug abuse is epidemic
Steve Brock, certified firefighter/paramedic, grant writer and chief of Emergency Medical Services for Brown Township Fire and Rescue, said overdoses in Morgan County are now beyond control. And according to Brock, most residents are in denial about this.
He said the epidemic is not in just one age group.
“Heroin is the most common substance abused because it is cheap and easy to obtain,” Brock said. “Meth is also prevalent, but not as much as heroin. Many people are poly-substance abusers — they mix alcohol, pills and narcotics. ODs average close to 10 a month.”
Brock said the drug Narcan continues to save lives of overdose victims. But that comes after the problem is full-blown.
More facilities for rehab are needed in the county. Morgan County had grants to disperse for prevention, treatment and enforcement — although there were very few applicants for prevention programs, he added.
“D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is back in Martinsville schools, but there are not enough of these programs for students. The whole community has to get in front of this,” Brock said.
Tom Cassidy of Camby recently lost his son Tyler, 25, because of the young man’s addiction to heroin, pain pills and other substances. Tyler was also the father of two children. In his obituary, the family asked that donations and signatures be directed in support of The Jennifer Act. Cassidy said Tyler’s mother, Lisa Skillman, told him about it.
“Tyler was ventilated five or six times to bring him back. It’s hard for parents to know how to help. There’s a fine line between trying to help them and becoming their enabler,” Cassidy said. “I tried to give him employment. He would work on and off at our business, but that only gave him the money to buy his drugs.”
Cassidy said the family had paid for rehab again and again, but Tyler couldn’t “save himself from himself.”
“He knew it would kill him eventually, but he couldn’t stop. I think long-term, residential treatment might have helped him recover. But a person still has to want it,” Cassidy said.
For more information on The Jennifer Act or to contact Blair for a speaking engagement, go to thejenniferact.com.
Why do people use drugs?
Shedding some light on addiction
People suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression or other mental illnesses use drugs and alcohol to ease their pain.
People see family members, friends, role models or entertainers using drugs and alcohol and rationalize that they can too.
People think drugs will help relieve stress.
People figure if a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it must be OK.
People get physically injured and unintentionally get hooked on prescription drugs.
People use drugs to cover painful memories in their past.
People think drugs will help them fit in.
People chase the high they first experienced.
The entire article is available on ezinearticles.com under “9 Reasons Why People Use Drugs and Alcohol.”
Treatment providers can be located on the Family and Social Services Agency website at in.gov/fssa/dmha/2578.htm. For detox programs, call the Division of Mental Health and Addiction offices at 317-232-7860.
About SB 499
Senator Jeff Raatz (R-27), one of the authors of Indiana’s SB 499, said the opioid addiction bill does mention The Jennifer Act. Raatz said there are more than 20 bills on opioid abuse, and they all compete for government funds. The Enrolled Senate Bill 499 passed the Indiana House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 21.
The bill will allow for $750,000 a year for three years and will include a couple of weeks of detox and involuntary commitment for two groups of addicts. It will be available to those charged with or convicted of a drug offense and those who received an overdose intervention drug for an acute opioid overdose.
Raatz said Indiana’s original code on involuntary commitment is workable as it stands, but with SB 499 and The Jennifer Act, it will be easier to use.
After approval of the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse, the Division of Mental Heath and Addiction will establish the pilot programs. A study will be done to see if the pilot programs are working.
Raatz said commitment is capped at one year, but he believes not many of the candidates will be in-patient. It is hopeful they will be enabled to get back to work and to their lives.
The diversion program will have wrap-around support services that include job training skills and more. With the completion of the program, charges will be dropped.
“Police keep going to the same place multiple times with substance abusers. We don’t have enough capacity to deal with this influx of addicts,” Raatz said. “Senator Pat Miller (R-32 and now retired) looked at adding Medicaid and the Healthy Indiana Plan or HIP 2.0 for funding. People can also use personal health insurance.”
For more information on the bill, go to iga.in.gov/legislative/2017/bills/senate/499.