Family hopes to turn overdose tragedy into second chance for others

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HYDE PARK, Vt. (WCAX) A new bill that aims to prevent substance abuse and reduce opioid deaths in Vermont has been signed into law.

The bill puts more money into behavioral addiction treatment, family trauma prevention groups and community outreach programs. Gov. Phil Scott signed it at the fourth annual Opioid Forum in Hyde Park on Tuesday. The event was dedicated to 26-year-old Jenna Rae Tatro who died in February after overdosing on prescription painkillers.

Jenna’s parents, Greg and Dawn, stood beside Governor Scott as he signed the bill. They then took to the podium to tell the crowd about their daughter and her six-year battle with addiction.

Jenna’s mother, Dawn, said Jenna’s boyfriend beat her after a breakup and she ended up in the hospital, where she has prescribed OxyContin for 30 days. Dawn said Jenna got addicted to the pills and the sense of peace she felt after taking them.

"Jenna had even written in her journal that I was reading in her journal after she passed. 'First came the kicks and punches followed by the sirens and blue lights,' which brought her to the E.R. where she found that little pill that made everything all better," she said.

The Tatros say Jenna went in and out of rehab for six years. The last time, she sought help at a recovery center in New Hampshire and was sober for 60 days. Greg said she relapsed due to not having the support she needed when she went home.

"A gang member got a hold of her and said, 'I want to talk to you,' and he put her in the car and wouldn’t let her out," Greg told WCAX. "We got her home after three or four days and she overdosed in our basement."

Jenna died on February 15. That day, her family vowed to keep her legacy alive through Jenna’s Promise, a new organization they’re starting in her memory.

Greg told WCAX News the Tatros bought a church in Johnson for the organization. He said it will aim to create a judgment-free place for people struggling with addiction who are seeking help. Greg also mentioned plans for family-friendly events, sober parties and live music.

"Our ideal dream would be to have a substance abuse-free community. Sober living, sober community, sober therapeutic community," he said.

Greg and Dawn said Jenna vowed to use her story to help others. They believe she will fulfill her promise through this new organization.

Greg and Dawn said Jenna would have wanted them to pick themselves back up and turn the tragedy of her death into a chance of new life for someone else.

"She said, 'You and I are going to make a difference and we’re going to raise money so we can help people that can’t get into treatment,'" Dawn recalled Jenna telling her. "She knew she was lucky to have the resources to get help. And that was Jenna’s Promise."

The Tatros hope to have Jenna’s Promise open by the end of the year.

When discussing the national opioid epidemic, Greg said he thinks the country is “late to the party” when it comes to treating substance abuse, but he’s hopeful this bill will help Vermont move in the right direction.