The family of Jessie Grubb, a recovering heroin addict who died at age 30 from a prescription drug overdose earlier this month, has opened up to Us Weekly in an exclusive interview about her tragic, all-too-common cause of death. Grubb’s story has impacted millions, including President Barack Obama, who became acquainted with her case last year at a forum about the opioid crisis.
“The first time we discovered [her addiction was from] reading something that she had written. … It was in a journal or something,” her father, David Grubb, tells Us. “At the time she said, ‘Oh no, that was just a one-time thing, just trying it, don’t worry.’ And we believed her. Of course there’s no such thing as trying heroin one time — at least not for somebody who’s an addict anyway. But we were naive, we knew nothing, we learned a lot.”
Her father, 65, a former state senator in West Virginia who now heads an employment firm, details Jessie’s addiction to the drug, which spanned seven years and four rehab stints. “There was a two-year stretch where she was completely sober and very good, she was her old self, she was Jessie,” David recalls to Us. “It’s a horrendous thing, this addiction, because even though you’re doing well, there are so many triggers around and sometimes you can’t even identify what the trigger was. It just happens.”
David tells Us that the addiction started when she went to college at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. “She was raped her freshman year of college,” he says. “She confessed that just in the last year or so to us. … At the time she was a virgin, which she later confessed to us, so it was just a tragic, awful situation for her. So, she comes home and she’s in this frame of mind where she’s not feeling good about herself … and she meets a guy and they become friends. He’s cute and smart and nice, and he has heroin and he asks her if she’d like to try it.”
The next seven years for Jessie were hell as she oscillated between rehab centers. Her final heroin overdose in August was a wake-up call for Jessie, and she committed to recovery — until she was prescribed opioids by her doctor after getting surgery. “I mean, addicts, that doesn’t go away. That’s always there. So, when she was given a prescription for opioids, she couldn’t resist it,” David tells Us. “When she got back to her apartment, after she was discharged and she had those pills, she didn’t intend to die, she just was thinking, ‘I’ve been in the hospital for eight days.’ And that’s what we talked to her about.”
That was the last time she spoke to her parents. “She evidently took eight of the pills that were missing — eight of the 50 — and given her condition … her tolerance was gone and I think it was just enough to suppress her breathing and she just, in her sleep, died,” her father tells Us. Though her exact cause of death has yet to be confirmed to her family, it was reported by HuffPost that Jessie died from oxycodone toxicity.
“The last six months prior to her death were just great for her. She was sober and she was making new contacts. … She wanted to get her life back on track because she felt like her life had been put on hold for seven years, and she was looking forward to going back to college. She wanted to be a mother. It’s hard to talk about.”
Most heartrending of all was that her sister, Katherine, is getting married in April — and Jessie was supposed to be the maid of honor. “It’s hard for her too, my daughter,” David tells Us of the heartbroken bride-to-be. “It’s the happiest time of her life, but it’s also the saddest. So it’s hard.”
David spoke with the hospital about the prescription. “I said, ‘Well, did you know that she was recovering addict?’ And [the doctor] had no idea. He said, ‘We have an interdisciplinary approach,’ and he never got any email, he never got any contact from anybody else telling him that,” the heartbroken father tells Us. “And evidently, one of two things happened — either he didn’t check the medical records, or the people that we told it to and Jessie told it to didn’t put it in the medical records.”
“Jessie was very, very bright. Very witty, very socially involved,” David tells Us. “She recognized she needed to do something and she tried to get better and she wanted to get better.”
President Obama met her parents in October 2015 when he hosted a forum about opioid abuse in Charleston, West Virginia. The president was reportedly moved by Jessie’s story and the ongoing opioid crisis that is claiming the lives of many people’s loved ones. Months later, the bright 30-year-old was dead.
“There’s a disconnect, and that’s … Oh god, that’s just what is so infuriating,” David tells Us of doctors prescribing medication for recovering addicts. “Her death didn’t need to happen. So hopefully, hopefully something can come from this, the system responds better, communicates better.”