U.S. House passes bill named for Ann Arbor woman

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
A photo of Jessica Grubb from her Facebook page

Washington — The U.S. House on Tuesday approved bills meant to combat the opioid epidemic, including Jessie's Law — named for an Ann Arbor woman. 

Jessie's Law passed the U.S. Senate last year in response to the 2016 overdose death of 30-year-old Jessica Grubb. Since the House bill was amended, the legislation will now return to the Senate for consideration. 

Grubb had been clean seven months after treatment in Michigan for her heroin addiction before undergoing hip surgery for a running injury at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti. 

Her parents had informed hospital staff about her condition, but that message allegedly never reached the doctor who discharged her. He prescribed her 50 Oxycodone pills, and Grubb fatally overdosed that night in March 2016, according to her family.

"The heartbreaking tragedy is that Jessie’s addiction history was recorded eight times in her medical records, yet the discharging doctor was somehow unaware," said her father, David Grubb.

"Hopefully, this legislation will make a real difference ... and save lives."

The measure by Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, directs the government to develop guidelines for including a patient’s history of addiction treatment in their electronic health records, with that patient’s consent.

"Jessie's tragic story was entirely preventable," Walberg said.

"By ensuring medical professionals are equipped with the right processes and tools to safely treat their patients, we can prevent future overdose tragedies like Jessie's."  

Dingell said Grubb had moved to Michigan "hoping for a reset and a better future."

"We don't know all the facts of this case, but we do know Jessie's parents did tell her doctor of her history of substance abuse, and she was prescribed them anyway," Dingell said on the floor. 

"We can't have this kind of information lost in the jumble of a medical record. If a patient consents, it needs to be prominently displayed." 

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, center, promote their bill Jessie's Law during a January news conference at the U.S. Capitol.

The House also passed by voice vote a bill by Dingell and Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, that aims to spur research at the National Institutes of Health to develop a painkiller that isn’t addictive.

The lawmakers said their measure would give the NIH greater "flexibility" to collaborate with companies to do "cutting-edge” research on ways to prevent, treat and cure diseases or disorders, or research on “urgently” needed options to respond to public health threats such as the opioid crisis.

NIH Director Francis Collins requested the flexibility for his agency to pursue these "new avenues," Upton said. 

Collins said last fall his agency was working on formal partnerships with more than 30 pharmaceutical companies and academic research centers to develop non-addictive methods of managing chronic pain and innovative medications for treating opioid addiction.

"The advances in innovation can offer the real hope to those who are suffering," Upton said.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

The House also voted 398-0 to approve a second Walberg-Dingell bill that would grant home hospice professionals the legal authority to safely dispose of unused drugs after a hospice patient’s death.

Walberg said Drug Enforcement Administration regulations restrict hospice personnel from disposing of the medication themselves unless authorized by state law.

That often results in leaving behind the unused medications, which are then at risk of diversion, theft or abuse in the community, lawmakers say.

"We heard testimony that just once hospice caring for 2,000 patients a year might be leaving behind tens of thousands of pills in need of disposal each year," Walberg said during debate. 

Dingell said a family who just lost a loved one doesn't need additional problems like having to dispose of leftover, unused medications. 

"By passing this legislation we can provide for the safe destruction of thousands — literally hundreds of thousands — of unused opioids that would otherwise end up on the street and feed the addiction of many."