An obituary published in Vermont on Oct. 14 tells the story of a lifelong struggle with opioid addiction in open and honest terms.
Since its publication, the obituary has gone viral, spreading via social media and national news outlets. It has inspired donations to drug rehabilitation centers and discourse on what is a tough subject for many people.
Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on Oct. 7 at age 30 after more than a decade of struggling with addiction.
Linsenmeir did not die of an overdose, but from a severe staph infection resulting from IV drug use, according to a statement from her sister Maura O’Neill.
It all started in Florida.
Linsenmeir moved with her parents from Vermont to Florida at age 16 to attend a performing arts program at Booker High School in Sarasota.
It was while living there that she first tried Oxycontin at a high school party, according to the obituary.
The addiction dominated the rest of her life.
Opioid abuse is a persistent issue in Florida, where death rates reflect and sometimes exceed national trends.
The latest data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that there were 2,798 opioid-related overdose deaths in Florida in 2016; the state’s rate was higher than the national average.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show significant increases in drug overdose deaths in Florida from 2014 to 2015 and from 2015 to 2016, with opioids — prescription and illegal — as the main driver.
The epidemic is inspiring one of the few instances of bipartisanship in Washington in recent years. Several bipartisan pieces of legislation addressing the opioid epidemic have made it through Congress in recent weeks and now await the president’s signature.
One of them, the Centralized Opioid Guidance Act, was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, in the House and would create a central resource for information on how patients can safely use opioids to manage pain without developing an addiction. Resources are currently scattered among different government agencies.
Local governments are also putting resources into the hands of those who have frequent contact with opioid addicts.
For example, last year, Bradenton police were trained to administer Narcan, an opioid antagonist that reverses an opioid overdose.
Linsenmeir’s obituary makes a case for compassion and understanding in relating to those who struggle with drug addiction.
“To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her,” a portion of the obituary reads. “And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay.
“In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her ‘til the end. She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.”
An author of the obituary was not listed, but an Oct. 17 article posted on people.com revealed that it was written by Linsenmeir’s oldest sister, Kate O’Neill.
O’Neill also had another message for readers.
“If you are reading this with judgment, educate yourself about this disease, because that is what it is. It is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support.”
The obituary drew public response from many, including U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire, the state with the secon- highest rate of opioid deaths in the country, as well as the police chief from the city where it was published.
“I have a problem with this obituary,” begins a Facebook post from Burlington, Vt., police chief Brandon del Pozo.
“Why did it take a grieving relative with a good literary sense to get people to pay attention for a moment and shed a tear when nearly a quarter of a million people have already died in the same way as Maddie as this epidemic grew?
“She died just like my wife’s cousin Meredith died in Bethesda, herself a young mother, but if 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 Booker Prize, there wouldn’t be a weepy article in People about it.
“Why not? But if there had been, early enough on, and we acted swiftly, humanely, and accordingly, maybe Maddie would still be here. Make no mistake, no matter who you are or what you look like: Maddie’s bell tolls for someone close to you, and maybe someone you love. Ask the cops and they will tell you: Maddie’s death was nothing special at all. It happens all the time, to people no less loved and needed and human.”
Current resources for people struggling with opioid addiction include a national drug and alcohol treatment hotline that can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), as well as online resources through the American Society of Addiction Medicine and American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry that can help victims locate local help.