Jenna Kopp 4/15/2019

DACULA, Ga.(CBS46) -- How far would you go to protect a loved one from potentially deadly opioids? One woman is working to change laws to help Georgia families prevent opioid abuse.

Jenna Kopp is on a mission to fight opioid addiction like never before in Georgia, in the name of her brother: Ben Kopp.

The bright, yet shy computer engineer kept to himself mostly, but was close with his sister.

"We were 13 months apart," Jenna Kopp said. "When we were young, my parents actually held him back a year in school so that they could start the two of us together in school --so he could more or less be my protector," Kopp added.

Years later, Kopp found herself the protector as her older brother began battling alcohol addiction and depression.

The turning point would come in December of 2016, when Ben's wife of 15 years, Jean, was diagnosed with stage four brain and bladder cancer.

The joy of his life was slipping away, and he became more secluded as he tried to care for Jean at home. Kopp says her brother insisted his wife didn't want help from anyone else.

"Little did we know at the time that he was using that as an excuse to continue to drink," Kopp said. "The whole time that she was at home he was trying to look after her, but he was continuing to consume alcohol."

Just three months after the devastating diagnosis, Ben’s wife died.

"He went into a downhill spiral," Kopp said. "He went home and he locked himself in his house. He began drinking more and more."

Ben was at home alone, surrounded by memories, his wife's ashes, and her prescription pain killers.

"He was strictly grieving at that point—grieving and drinking and has access to opioids," Kopp told CBS46's Hayley Mason.

From her home in Dacula, Kopp tried to intervene through court orders, hospital admission, and even the local sheriff’s department. She and her aging father did all they could to help Ben. Nothing worked. She calls the entire process involving the courts and hospitals “a complete system failure.”

Kopp recalls her brother being admitted to the hospital for intoxication when his wife was at her worst. Kopp says the doctor's released him early. She tried to obtain a court order to have her Ben admitted into treatment, but says when it was time for that to happen, she learned the judge had not sent over the affidavits that she and her father had written to explain the severity of Ben's illness.

"I just immediately started looking at everything that went wrong, starting with the fact that the judge decided not to send the affidavits along with the order to apprehend," Kopp told CBS46. "That, in my opinion, was probably if not the most critical mistake that she’s made in her entire career, it probably comes very close to it. There was such compelling information in those affidavits," Kopp explained. She believes if health professionals had received the affidavits, they would have treated her brother’s case differently.

With little help and little time, Kopp broke into her brother’s home fearing the worst.

"I ran up the stairs, I turned to the left and there was his lifeless body in his recliner chair," Kopp said. "I ran over to him, and I grabbed him. I just pulled his body up to me, and I started screaming over and over and over again. It was like my worst nightmare," Kopp said.

Kopp thought alcohol had finally won until Ben's death certificate showed the cause of death was "morphine toxicity."

"We know it had to have been his wife’s morphine," said Kopp, who for weeks sat in shock and frustration. "It was all so surreal at the time that it took me a while to really wrap my head around everything.”

Her thoughts turned to frustration and to one simple question.

“I began to think why were those left in the house?" Kopp questioned. "Why were those left there? Why didn’t somebody see that these medications got collected? Somebody from her oncology team?”

Turning her pain into purpose, Kopp went to the State Capitol to meet with her state representative. She's determined to keep prescription opioids out of the wrong hands.

"My heart went out to her and what she had dealt with," said Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula. "Ultimately, two bills were introduced this legislative session. I am carrying both of them. First is House Bill 544, the next is House Bill 586," he said.

Efstration says the bills approach the prescription drug issues from various directions.

"House Bill 544 will allow for when orders are issued by court for somebody to receive mental health treatment or addiction related treatment, the information that is given to a doctor in a treating facility includes the affidavits," Rep. Efstration. "The information that was given to the court on the front end, and also that there be information shared as far as the treatment plan ultimately when the person is discharged," he added.

"The next bill is House Bill 586. What this legislation would do is allow for hospice employees to take back prescription drugs after death, and the state would provide rules and procedures for how exactly that would be done," Efstration added.

Efstration calls this a fist step towardopioid abuse reform.

Nationally, drug overdoses from opioids--prescription or others-- have risen from more than 18,500 in 2007 to more than 47,600 in 2017.

While the numbers remained unchanged from 2016 to 2017, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a higher number of drug overdose deaths at 68%.

Morphine is a natural opioid, not as scrutinized in the opioid fight as synthetic possible killers like fentanyl and methadone.

Jenna is already being applauded for her efforts. At its annual breakfast, CARON treatment centers, recognized her as an unsung heroes.

"Unfortunately, it took his life to make a difference," Kopp said. "I know I can’t get my brother back. If I can keep one more person from going through what we went through, what my brother went through, what my family has gone through, then I will know that his death was not in vain," she told CBS46.

March 28th marked the 2-year-anniversary of Ben’s death.

Copyright 2019 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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