Vt. cop stunned by opioid victim's viral obit wants better treatment for addicts
"There are so many clinical advances that could be made ... that could save so many lives," Officer Brandon del Pozo said
By Megan Cerullo
New York Daily News
BURLINGTON, Vt. — The small-city police chief who penned an essay in response to a young mom's viral obituary detailing her opioid addiction says better medical care is needed to treat the opioid crisis gripping America.
"Abstinence is an extreme solution, and safe injection is the other extreme," said Brandon del Pozo, the top cop in Burlington, Vermont's biggest city.
"There are so many clinical advances that could be made in the middle that could save so many lives," del Pozo, a former NYPD officer, told the Daily News.
Madelyn Linsenmeir, 30, died of opioid addiction — and her obituary, published in the Burlington Free Press, drew wide attention.
"Her disease brought her to places of incredible darkness, and this darkness compounded on itself, as each unspeakable thing that happened to her and each horrible thing she did in the name of her disease exponentially increased her pain and shame," said the obit, penned by relatives.
Del Pozo responded with a Facebook lament that it took "a grieving relative with a good literary sense to get people to pay attention" to the opioid crisis.
Dozens of people responded to del Pozo's post by telling him how their lives have been affected by opioid addiction.
"They told me, 'I'm glad your reply acknowledges people like us went through that and practically no one was listening,'" del Pozo said.
Linsenmeir became addicted to opioids when she was 16 after she tried OxyContin at a party, said her obituary. She died last week, leaving behind a 4-year-old son.
"This is what it takes to tackle this epidemic that's killed a quarter of a million people in a forthright way — a beautiful woman with a small baby in Vermont fighting the opioid crisis and dying?" he asked. "We should have been having this conversation years ago."
Del Pozo outlined innovations he thinks should be made in dealing with the opioid crisis.
Current methods, including supervised injection, reduce opioid-related fatalities by a negligible amount, he said.
Del Pozo believes a medically-assisted treatment approach is most effective.
He's appalled by the way hospital emergency departments now handle overdose patients.
"You come in dying and unconscious and they give you Narcan and you leave. If you came in unconscious and dying from the flu, they wouldn't just make you conscious again and send you out the door," he said.
He's seen a handful of hospitals that distribute medication to stabilize suffering patients.
"That is a pioneering thing to do," he said.
In Burlington, opioid overdoses are "by far the number one cause of accidental death," according to del Pozo. The same is true for the towns surrounding Burlington in Chittenden County, and the rest of the state of Vermont.
"They are manifold more lethal and homicides, car accidents, HIV. Nothing else even comes close," he said.
"It also does things like separates families, reduces the workforce, and drives a lot of people to commit crimes to feed addiction that keeps cops working hard."
He urges those who were touched by Linsenmeir's obituary to "have conversations about clinical interventions, like treatment in jail."
"We need to get to a place where taking a medication that reduces your dependence on opioids is going to be seen as a respectable solution rather than a stigma," he said.