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New law: Jennifer Act meant to help those with addictions

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Sharon Blair, left, said she did everything she could to try to help her daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, who suffered from a heroin addiction. Blair has been pushing for changes in state law that are meant to help other addicts get help.  - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHARON BLAIR
  • Photo courtesy of Sharon Blair
  • Sharon Blair, left, said she did everything she could to try to help her daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, who suffered from a heroin addiction. Blair has been pushing for changes in state law that are meant to help other addicts get help.

By Katie Stancombe

A new law called The Jennifer Act aims to bring hope to those who are struggling with addiction by ensuring Medicaid will provide inpatient detoxification and cover some medical treatments such as methadone.

Hoosier Sharon Blair pushed for the law – passed in April – in memory of her daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, who died after a prescription drug overdose in 2009. As a social justice advocate, Blair has continued fighting for her daughter’s freedom from addiction – despite her death – by advocating for those going through similar turmoil.

“These families need a voice,” said Blair. “I mean, I needed a voice when Jennifer was addicted. I needed somebody who was mentally strong, who was an activist who could’ve spoke on my behalf because I was so paralyzed with fear.”

Blair said her daughter was an honor roll student, an active member of student government and a member of her high school cheerleading squad. But what many couldn’t see was that Reynolds was also an addict. She battled a chronic opiate addiction for 13 years after experimenting with prescription pills as a teen.

Reynolds’ mother did what any mother would do. Blair sought help. She found herself in courtrooms working to convince judges to force her daughter into treatment, ultimately with to no avail. Blair wanted the law on her side when it came to saving her daughter from addiction.

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“It became something that just ruined her life, all through high school. It destroyed everything,” said Blair. “I just ending up fighting for her life for 13 years, just begging the courts and people to help her. She was dying in front of me.”

Blair’s pleas for help were silenced on Jan. 15, 2009. At 29 years old, Jennifer Reynolds died from a heroin overdose.

But Blair decided she wouldn’t accept silence. She would not stop fighting for others suffering from addiction. Blair began advocating and petitioning in Florida and Indiana, standing up for addicts and their loved ones.

In May of 2014, Blair decided to reach out to Indiana Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem. As a member of the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, Davisson empathized with her plight and agreed to help her by crafting a bill for the 2015 legislative session. Today, she calls the bill The Jennifer Act.

House Bill 1448 ensures that Medicaid is provided for inpatient, addiction-related hospital services and will allow physicians to use Medicaid to offer treatment services, including Methadone, an addictive drug that curbs cravings without providing the same high as heroin.

The law also provides inpatient substance abuse and detoxification services and education programs for judges, public defenders and lawmakers. As the author of the bill, Davisson said that he is excited to move forward with the issue because it has been something Indiana has “dragged their feet on” in previous years.

“Hopefully all this leads to fewer deaths and people getting their lives back on track in Indiana,” said Davisson. “And hopefully down the road, these things will come forward and we can create a stronger infrastructure for treating patients.”

Officials at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration – which administers Medicaid, a health care program for the poor – say they already cover in-patient detoxification. But they do it through a rule rather than under state law.

The change ensures Indiana Medicaid “will continue to cover these services for vulnerable Hoosiers,” said Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the agency.

Blair says The Jennifer Act is a victory. But it’s a victory that is only a step in the right direction.

“It’s addressing mental health issues and substance abuse, on a small scale. I do think it’s an improvement,” she said.

Blair says the state can’t stop here, that it will only make a dent in the real problem of addiction. Blair’s original goal was to completely revamp the involuntary commitment law, something she hasn’t yet been able to achieve. Still, Blair is taking Reynolds’ legacy and using it for change – one step at a time. Today she reflects on the impact her daughter’s story has made and is thankful.

“I am very relieved that we’ve gotten progress in Indiana,” Blair said. “I am hopeful that it’s going to make it easier for families to get treatment services for their loved ones.”

And hopefully, save a life.

Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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