Courtesy of Maura O & Neill
The opioid epidemic is estimated at 115 people daily. But rarely does a victim get the attention the obituary received on a young mother on the website of The Burlington Free Press earlier this week.
In the Obituary, Kate writes to O Neill about how her sister's 12-year struggle with Madelyn Linsenmeir led to her death with her addiction. Under a photo of the smiling 30-year-old her little son was wearing on her back, O Neil Linsenmeir portrayed as plump, gifted singer and a warm presence.
"Even though we paid ransom you got her back, At any price in the world, this illness would not let her go until she was gone, "writes O Neill about her sister.
O & Neil never expected to gain traction. Major media, from the Washington Post to People Magazine, described Linsenmeir's Obit as "heartbreaking" and "poignant." On Twitter Ivanka Trump explained Linsenmeir's story as "raw" and "devastating".
In the midst of an opioid crisis that has indiscriminately affected almost every corner of the country, what has influenced its history so much?
O & Neill believes that the spread of opiate addiction explains why her sister has moved so many people. "It's her story, or her neighbor's story, or her daughter's story or the story of her co-worker's daughter," she tells NPR Scott Simon.
Tragically, according to O Neill, the stigma of addiction all too often poses significant barriers to saving human lives, even though nearly a third of Americans know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids is, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
O & Neill felt that she could not pay tribute to her sister without highlighting the realities of an addiction that began at the age of 16, when Linsenmeir tried the prescription painkiller OxyContin at a high school party.
"This part of her life was so central to her, as an adult," she says. "Her addiction did not define her, but she defined her way of living, without which it would not have been right to honor who she was."
"I want people to know that Maddie is a face," she says. "So many addicted people do not resemble the photo [of Maddie]," she says. " Maddie did not resemble this photo when she was in her power."
Courtesy of Kate O'Neill
Brandon del Pozo, police chief in Linsenmeir's hometown of Burlington, agrees with this point. But he complains that the thousands of lives lost every year through addiction are unable to sustain the country's attention in the same way as was the case in Linsenmeir's story. More than a week after her death, her story has been able to gain lasting power amid today's turbulent news cycle.
In a Facebook post, del Pozo wrote:
Did the readers think this was the first time that a beautiful, young, beloved mother became dependent on a pastoral state of Oxy and died in her descent? And what about the rest of the victims, who were not so beautiful and lived in rundown cities or the Rust Belt? They, too, had mothers who cried for them and blamed themselves.
The obit was "poignant and true," says del Pozo NPR, "but it's not new." He felt compelled to respond to the accelerated national pull when People – a publication with a large and diverse readership – published the history of Linsenmeir. "We should have had this conversation years ago," he says.
When he argued on Facebook: "[I] If Maddie was a Bronx black who was found dead in his bathroom, it would not matter Whether the boy's obituary writer won the Booker Prize [Man]it would He does not give an article in People. "
He points out that the last wave of the opioid epidemic has swept across all races and peoples classes in the last decade.
"People say they are interested, but best policy responses have fallen on deaf ears," he says.
When del Pozo entered as Chief of Police in 2015, he was tapped by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger to lead the city's public health efforts.
This year, the police chief, Burlington Police associate the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Police Executive Research Forum on Best Practices, said city leaders can reduce opioid deaths.
One of the best practices the city has implemented is facilitating access to buprenorphine, an anti-addictive drug that many doctors have yet to prescribe.
"When you ask public health researchers what we should do [to combat opioid abuse] we do that," says Del Pozo.
Kate O'Neill's thoughts on how to fight opioid deaths are consistent with those of Burlington City Leaders. "Our hope now lies with politicians and politicians and the people who can make the necessary changes to stop these deaths," she says. "Let's put our money where our tweets are."