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Editorial: Opiates — one victim’s story

Burlington, Vermont is a long way from Newfoundland and Labrador.

It’s a city of about 42,000 people, about an hour and a half south of Montreal. A college town, it boasts about being the first city in the United States to run on renewable power, the kind of place where the city website lets you report blown streetlights, graffiti, sidewalk problems or people who park on the grass.

It’s also where Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir was born. Her name may not be familiar here; her fate might be, to more people than you know.

Read what her family had the courage to put in her obituary. (These are only excerpts. The whole obituary is here: — read it. It draws a far more complete picture of her life and struggles.)

“When she was 16, she moved with her parents from Vermont to Florida to attend a performing arts high school. Soon after she tried OxyContin for the first time at a high school party, and so began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.

Her name may not be familiar here; her fate might be, to more people than you know.

“It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction. To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. 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.”

It is worth remembering that the drug company executives who brought OxyContin to the North American market, kicking off an abuse epidemic, largely escaped with fines and much of their profits. The victims of the drug regularly did not — and do not — escape it.

As Linsenmeir’s family pointed out, those victims also regularly do not escape societal condemnation.

“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. If you work in one of the many institutions through which addicts often pass — rehabs, hospitals, jails, courts — and treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve, thank you. If instead you see a junkie or thief or liar in front of you rather than a human being in need of help, consider a new profession.”

Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on Oct. 7.

She was just 20.

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