On October 7, Madelyn Ellan Linsenmeir, like too many other Americans, passed away from an opioid overdose. Born in Vermont, she was a mother, she was loved by her family, friends, and community and she had suffered from addiction for most of her adult life. On Sunday, her obituary, thoughtfully and powerfully authored by a family member, was published in the Burlington Free Press. It soon went viral resonating with the often difficult to talk about and stigmatized crisis that has plagued communities across the country. It was published by Fox News, the Washington Post and elsewhere.

The Burlington police chief penned a response on Facebook, and the Burlington Free Press ran it on Wednesday. His words, opening with the provocative first line “I have a problem with this obituary,” are well worth reading in full.

The chief, Brandon del Pozo, is no stranger to the opioid crisis. Vermont, like many other states, saw opioid overdose spike since 2014 and has rates of addiction and overdose deaths similar to that of the country. In the United States, based on provisional data for 2017, nearly 50,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. To put that in perspective, more Americans died from opioid overdose than car crashes.

That’s a staggering statistic and that number, or rather the focus on the numbers rather than people, is exactly what Pozo is getting at with his provocative first line. He explains, “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?”

On a personal note and with evident anguish, Pozo explains that the crisis I is also personal: his wife’s cousin died from an overdose in Bethesda.

But the real pull of Pozo’s post is a call to action, emphasizing the importance of paying attention to deaths like Maddie’s and taking action based on what works. And he would know. He leads the police force in the biggest city in one of the only states that saw a decline in opioid deaths in 2017.

Here’s what he suggests:

- Support and propagate needle exchanges
- Give out buprenorphine at needle exchanges to basically any user who requests it
- Give out buprenorphine at the emergency room to anyone who presents with an addiction and requests it
- Treat every prisoner who needs it with buprenorphine, methadone or vivitrol as best fits them
- Stop arresting and prosecuting for simple misdemeanor-level possession of non-prescribed addiction treatment meds
- Stop requiring total abstinence in recovery housing and allow people stabilized on addiction treatment meds to live in them
- Equip users with the tools to test their drugs for fentanyl
- Create enough capacity to eliminate wait lists at treatment hubs
- Train primary care doctors to treat addiction and prescribe addiction meds
- Return the opioid prescribing rate to pre-epidemic levels - Recognize addiction as a chronic disease and that abstinence-based therapy only works a small percent of the time, for certain people
- Saturate communities with Naloxone

None of those things are in the opioid package that Washington has talked for months, and that the Senate passed in early October.

Most of what the legislation, known as SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, does is make regulatory changes. Those make treatment more accessible and aim to choke off fentanyl and carfentanll entering the country. The bill also allows more healthcare professionals to prescribe drugs used to treat addiction, pushes for first responders to carry naloxone and tries to limit over prescription of opioid pain medication.

That legislation is undoubtedly good but it’s not enough to seriously prevent deaths like Maggie’s and a far cry from the comprehensive solutions laid out by Pozo.

In the words of the Burlington Police Chief, “The science is clear. We have medicines and protocols that work to effectively reduce the risks of death by overdose or other addiction-related causes. If you're ignoring or denying them, then I'll wonder if your tears for Maddie are crocodile tears.”