By On November 1st, 2018

After one opioid addict’s obituary goes viral, police chief says “it’s not new”

More than 100 people die every day from opioid overdoses, and each of these deaths is a preventable tragedy. Still, the majority of these overdoses never make the national news in any way other than as a statistic.

Madelyn Linsenmeir is the rare exception. In the past month, her obituary, written by Linsenmeir’s sister Kate O’Neill, has been reprinted and discussed everywhere from People Magazine to NPR.

The obituary describes Linsenmeir as a “born performer” with a beautiful singing voice, a caring mother, and a warm presence and is accompanied by a smiling picture of Linsenmeir with her child.

“Though we would have paid any ransom to have her back, any price in the world, this disease would not let her go until she was gone,” O’Neill writes about her sister.

Since her tragic passing, some have described Linsenmeir as “the face of the opioid epidemic” – a representation of all the others lost to addiction. However, some have taken issue with the attention Linsenmeir has received.

Brandon del Pozo is a police chief in Burlington, Vermont – Linsenmeir’s hometown. While he agrees that the death of Linsenmeir is heartbreaking, del Pozo is dismayed by the attention she has received.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral, del Pozo writes:

“Did readers think this was the first time a beautiful, young, beloved mother from a pastoral state got addicted to Oxy and died from the descent it wrought? And what about the rest of the victims, who weren’t as beautiful and lived in downtrodden cities or the rust belt? They too had mothers who cried for them and blamed themselves.”

Linsenmeir makes for an attractive face for the opioid epidemic, but del Pozo argues it is disingenuous when so many others who aren’t pretty white women have been dying from opioids for years.

“[I]f Maddie was a black guy from the Bronx found dead in his bathroom of an overdose, it wouldn’t matter if the guy’s obituary writer had won the [Man] Booker Prize, there wouldn’t be a weepy article in People about it.”

In a way, the obituary by Kate O’Neill recognizes this detachment between public support and the actual response many receive when dealing with addiction.

“To some, Maddie was just a junkie—when they saw her addiction they stopped seeing her,” O’Neill writes.

The photograph attached to the obituary shows Linsenmeir during a happy moment, free from the more obvious exterior signs of addiction or drug abuse. It is undoubtedly how Linsenmeir would like to be remembered, but it doesn’t capture the social and physical effects of her addiction.

Many who view Linsenmeir as “the face of the opioid epidemic” would likely have shunned or disregarded her as a “junkie” when she was most vulnerable and struggling with addiction.

Del Pozo agrees the obituary is “poignant and true,” and it is clear from his writing that he doesn’t want to undercut the almost unbearable loss Linsenmeir’s family is experiencing. But, when he saw the way media outlets were using her story, he couldn’t help but respond.

“It’s not new,” del Pozo writes. “We should’ve been having this conversation years ago.”

While O’Neill appreciates the support her family has received in the wake of their loss, her main hope is that people will turn their sentiments into action.

“Our hope also now lies with policymakers and politicians and the people who can make the change necessary so that these deaths stop happening,” she says. “Let’s put our money where our tweets are.”

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