The Jennifer Act was inspired in memory of my daughter, Jennifer Reynolds. Jennifer was my second born child. She was a fun loving, energetic, caring, free spirited child. She developed a crippling orthopedic disease called scoliosis (curvature of the spine)as she entered age 12 years. This required a very painful surgery (spinal fusion). She had to endure a 7 hour surgery, back incision from her neck to tailbone, 3 herrington rods and hooks attached to her spine and a bone graft of her right hip to be used as part of the spinal fusion. This was a very painful surgery. Jennifer was put on IV morphine for a week after this surgery, then sent home with opiate pain medication. I share this because this was her first time to have opiate pain medication. Her brain learned how taking this medication blocked pain.
As a teenager, Jennifer’s friends shifted in high school, and she began experimenting with substances. This decision quickly started a chain reaction and a downward spiral of a chronic dependency/addiction that lasted over a decade. Substance use disorder is a chronic brain disease and left untreated, the final outcomes are death or incarceration. After several attempts at short term treatment, relapses, incarcerations, Jennifer died of an accidental multi-drug toxicity (Prescription medication) in Pinellas County, Largo, Florida- January 15, 2009. Jennifer was a mother to her only son, born in Clearwater, FL at Morton Plant Hospital. She named her son, Trey Andrew Reynolds, June 11, 2001.
Jennifer tried (on her own will power alone), many times to stop her chronic addiction. She wanted to be free of the bondage of her addiction. It took a toll on her body and ability to be a mother to her son. Trey’s father was absent from his life his first 5 years, so myself and my husband became his legal guardians. He lived with us (his maternal grandparents) for over five years. Addiction is a “family disease”. One person’s addiction has a ripple effect that affects all family members. I was Jennifer’s mother and also her advocate, fighting for her life in the Florida courts using every means possible to get intervention and substance treatment. I filed five Involuntary Commitment petitions in three Florida counties to plead for her life and ask Florida Judges to court order Jennifer into long term residential treatment. I explained her chronic debilitating addiction, that she was a mother and needed emergency intervention or she would die.
That is how The Jennifer Act started. I saw real breakdowns in the Involuntary/Civil Commitment process and wanted to address these cracks in the system that could have saved her life. I contacted my District Lawmakers in Florida and asked them to address nine critical issues that I encountered using the law that was enacted to help those suffering. In 2009, we also relocated to our second home in Indiana, so I shared my vision and experience with Indiana Lawmakers as well. That began The Jennifer Act mission in two states, Florida & Indiana.
I have lobbied for and support many mental health, substance addictions bills in both IN & FL for over eight years. In 2015-Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law- HEA1448 in memory of Jennifer. (The Jennifer Act). In 2016- Senate Bill 12 passed (which included an amendment of The Jennifer Act) and was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
I also have included Substance Prevention and Education for our youth in schools as part of The Jennifer Act mission and lead Candle Vigils every year to remember those lives lost to overdose. I support those in Recovery and participate in benefits and recovery rides.
Our grandson, Trey, resides with his dad in Valrico, FL, however, since my daughter (his mother) died, we have been denied any contact with our beloved grandson, who we loved and raised the first five years of his life. As I stated, addiction affects the entire family. We filed for Grandparent Visitation but it was not granted.
I believe Jennifer’s short life had a purpose from the beginning to the end. The Jennifer Act has been erected for the sole purpose as a ministry to God to help others. By addressing improved legislation (state & federal) providing substance prevention & education to our youth, supporting those in recovery and remembering those lives lost to addiction, Jennifer’s legacy lives on as a ministry of love and hope.