The Sacklers, Family behind OxyContin maker engineered opioid crisis, Massachusetts AG says

The Massachusetts attorney general is targeting Purdue Pharma and eight members of the Sackler family who own the company, alleging in a lawsuit they are “personally responsible” for deceptively selling OxyContin.

The attorney general, Maura Healey, sat down with “CBS This Morning.” She alleges the Sackler family hired “hundreds of workers to carry out their wishes” – pushing doctors to get “more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer, than ever before” all while paying “themselves billions of dollars.”

In her lawsuit, Healey names eight members of the family that own Purdue Pharma, alleging they “micromanaged” a “deceptive sales campaign.” In the conclusion to the complaint, Healey said the Sackler family used the power at their disposal to engineer an opioid crisis. Almost 400,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017, according to the CDC.

Healey said this is the most complete picture to date of how the opioid crisis began, and why the Sackler family itself should be held accountable. “They don’t want to accept blame for this. They blame doctors, they blame prescribers and worst of all, they blame patients,” Healey said.

Purdue Pharma called the accusations “a rush to vilify” the drugmaker. There’s a lot in the lawsuit that’s still redacted, and lawyers for Purdue plan to argue on Friday that it should stay that way.

Healey said Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are one and the same.

In one alleged instance, then-president Richard Sackler devised what Healey describes as Sackler’s “solution to the overwhelming evidence of overdose and death,” writing in a confidential email, “we have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem.”

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said the lawsuit “distorts critical facts” and “cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents.”

To that, Healey said, “If Purdue thinks we’re cherry picking, I invite them to produce all of their documents and let the public judge for itself.”

CBS News reached out to the members of the Sackler family named in the complaint, as well as their lawyer. Three declined comment through a press representative and we never heard back from the rest. But this is a family that rarely addresses its connection to the company that made it rich.

Jonathan Burke, a former addict, suggested Sackler take a dose of his own medicine. “I would personally tell him to take two a day for two weeks and see how he ends up,” Burke said.

Burke said his battle with addiction began 11 years ago, with a dirt bike accident and a two-month prescription of OxyContin. Just two weeks later, he was hooked.

“I’ll be 29 on Friday and didn’t think I’d make it to 25, to be honest,” Burke said. “The way that your brain becomes re-hardwired after an addiction is just absolutely insane.”

Burke later turned to illegal drugs and ended up stealing to fund his habit. “It literally damaged every relationship with every family member, friend, person I acquired in my life,” he said.

Burke’s home state of Massachusetts is one of 36 states now suing Purdue Pharma, accusing the company of downplaying the dangers of OxyContin. In a 2007 federal settlement, the company admitted to falsely selling the drug as “less addictive” than rival products. The company paid $630 million in fines.

Purdue Pharma told CBS News in a statement: “Massachusetts’ amended complaint irresponsibly and counterproductively casts every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate, substituting its lawyers’ sensational allegations for the expert scientific determinations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and completely ignoring the millions of patients who are prescribed Purdue Pharma’s medicines for the management of their severe chronic pain.

 In a rush to vilify a single manufacturer whose medicines represent less than 2 percent of opioid pain prescriptions rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis, the complaint distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl, which are the leading cause of overdose deaths in Massachusetts. Throughout the complaint, the Commonwealth disregards basic facts about Purdue’s prescription opioid medications including that: 

• FDA, the scientific agency charged with approving and regulating medicines in the U.S., has approved OxyContin and other Purdue opioid medications as safe and effective for their intended use; 

• Prescription opioids are among the most tightly controlled medicines in the United States, and Purdue’s OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it is in a class of medicines with the highest level of control by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); 

• The first information that healthcare providers see when reading the FDA-approved label for OxyContin is a prominent “black box” warning that includes information about the risks of addiction and overdose; and

 • Purdue promoted its opioid medications based on the medical and scientific evidence in the FDA approved label and did so to licensed physicians who have the training and responsibility to ensure that medications are properly prescribed. 

The Attorney General’s allegations also omit key facts about FDA’s regulation of opioid medications:

 • In April 2010, FDA approved a reformulated version OxyContin, which Purdue developed with properties intended to deter abuse. Purdue worked for over a decade to develop the new formulation, and it was the first FDA-approved opioid with abuse deterrent properties; 

• The Massachusetts Attorney General commended the FDA for supporting abuse-deterrent formulations and later required insurers to cover them; and 

• FDA has directly addressed many of the issues within the Massachusetts’ complaint and has continued to determine that Purdue Pharma’s opioids are safe and effective for their intended use. 

Perhaps one of the biggest omissions in the Attorney General’s complaint is that, in 2013, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services determined that Purdue had fulfilled its requirements under a 2007-2012 Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) relating to the marketing of its medications and released Purdue from the agreement. Furthermore, during the term of this five-year agreement, Purdue had submitted annual reports to a designated OIG monitor and had engaged an Independent Review Organization that evaluated specified elements of Purdue’s compliance program on an periodic basis to assess compliance with the terms of the CIA.

 To distract from these omissions of fact and the other numerous deficiencies of its claims, the Attorney General has cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents produced by Purdue. The complaint is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants, often highlighting potential courses of action that were ultimately rejected by the company.

 Purdue and the individual defendants will aggressively defend against these misleading allegations. In the meantime, we continue to fight for balance in the public discourse so that society can simultaneously help pain patients in need and create real solutions to the complex problem of addiction.”

Purdue Pharma lawsuit redactions apparently show company wanted to capitalize on opioid addiction treatment

A new report claims Purdue Pharma, the drug company accused of helping engineer and profit from the opioid epidemic, also considered expanding into addiction treatment. The ProPublica article is purportedly based on secret parts of a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue and members of the Sackler family who own the company. The suit alleges Purdue deceptively sold OxyContin and downplayed its dangers. Purdue says it will continue to defend itself.

According to ProPublica, blacked out portions of the documents apparently show Purdue wanted to capitalize on addiction treatment. The article cites “internal correspondence” between Purdue Pharma executives discussing how the “sale” and treatment of opioid addiction are “naturally linked.” ProPublica goes on to report, “while OxyContin sales were declining, the internal team at Purdue touted the fact that the addiction treatment marketplace was expanding.”

ProPublica specifically names Kathe Sackler as being involved with a secretive project called “Project Tango,” which was allegedly meant to help Purdue break into the addiction treatment market.

The redacted documents also reportedly show that Richard Sackler “complained” over email that an OxyContin Google alert “was giving him too much information about the drug’s dangers.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/embed/video/?v=1.e06f8975c0ec0e5f2be40d188881fa3524aef487#1VaNi9s2FP9XjGFjgyix%2FBUnUMa1165Hd%2BXYtazQlCBLL4l6tiUkOR8t97%2FvyXaS69bRbazQ3UEsS0%2Fv8%2Fd%2Bzx9D1jqlK3YI5ytWWRiFWylAhfOPoXRQ23D%2B9mPoDhrCebhVIhyFUuBylUIxpbQkNM8YSeMVJbMZzwjkaZ5HWSE4LVC21vtfYXXlb7y%2FuIb6t1ywSrx5%2Flwtl8%2F2T198MNePs5uLN%2BqN6aU7UbvUy%2BzqheIv9zPctlW79iZZLasDKWEjG0F0a0QLRG%2BYqRmBZi0bAAOCKC2VFIQbaaUlNbOW8U1rwTlL2JpYdrCo00lX%2BZBuOjXBTacm6E0EjHO8IALZBL22oNc2Ho%2Fx6qqtquP1Z%2F2F3qfgU2Vnnz7VMgquHzoVXPwcDE5x1qhGcla9%2BirqnazBOlbrcE6ztEiSBEuFf6NQtIY5qZpwHmf5%2BfUXVkKFbkTpnOaooOrfG0wAwqBma7AeJ9bXbOOctvPFZDHhpW1gZ%2BMxLiTac5KPuaoXk01bLiZyMTGLSRzR2WISUVyliwnLaJHDlJKEFwVJs6ggxazMiOBJVk4jWKWFWEzcpq3LhslqMcnTaJ%2Fk0WKSRXk05XmWrVjOaJokPBdRiXCMKSSs4N5GnBLu6gEwA16EulOtlhWhU8xBmpJB4%2Fi9XmOgm89GRL9iRDQuov00xpBETsssZhgSzFZpSVmRi7jgeRIV2TT9lyHdj0JtYCth99r4ivqodFtWGMgWEdbs%2B3iENMDdYlKseEKnNBYYQgIRT1KeZTwtOUQIGooB%2Fp3%2BRxNG5TO0sEP4qt241ml44hf0gWnM3RZTtpIVOGUtJuInq1rD4ZHUTBDrDGALNOvvNXObR9%2FFz2oQkvmn3uOvTzo%2BIurXKf4gBChN0niaFUXUncTp8smr62XfO33rLC%2BHVC27VGV0qTeqgXGdtMXRv%2FgbdrDtSniG5263Gw8Q7cvYRYBO%2F2eEuZh43rdXtVbWgTmNCpwcknejwjdMirDLs7ggGJwglEJMZoLGJIposYKCRVEZnekcPSZu4y0q02AGfdtJMMzwDc6it%2F488OfB8fwdghi0tEogNVLUA8x6ygqpVwrrGhrXH7QawW7tyU1WVRec487jSvG7E4HZ1xbMbVtaDL0EcRK3WjVWmaPcBvYXl7BibeU8F47wP%2Bx2H593k9kozUbZLLx%2Fh2MMHOt40SGNwvrg17i3UT5JTGtoRHh%2Ff0pEVy2itmBwChOtdFsxPw2HoVsh4%2FTpOQ4d382omt%2F5bZ98%2B7RhZeUjcKb18RpkqAouWrRp%2FER9GyaRYFyUnOSsYH9Vm3d%2FuPqS1TCUwoMr%2BGEjhYAmKA8VgufHB%2FLd2M5RD5vllMS0BJKW6YywaZ4RJBJKUxbnaDU8Xblpy0tMD97zTUIi5Eoa0BgnzTzLzmLHUdjDN%2BjhG1RsZ1vp5gECmHE%2Fq2yAmWUGMYAD027ULhCmXQfYD5o1h2DHGoeT0qmAY1M7VskPEKjTfGdCyE5N4BvaeSiNULdWxh2n59Gfvipcob7GLYddPBdIr%2Fx4LMDeYXN0XXMJWx8krjVOzEHA53PpP7A8dvH5XPq2%2Bhzq%2B%2FNb4P2A%2FrNELzDoRdx79MotBDsow6FFr%2F5Be3YX%2Bsp%2FzhYSgxls%2Ba8V3CnvbtG%2BN4FfFPgxUclaYk%2Bkp5TddoQ5qPOB%2B0uGNeKmYm6lTN25N4Bs6YNZnvPnX8%2FeDLcF1GptmN5I%2FgIO%2Fhs1fK%2FKZ23TJ2nk35743lPm4GvQiBab0S89HlqksBujVpJLaPhxF1Fyi6DAtzU2KPgOxHL9bJCIO4m28RqwHA4QPW3tO097LdUD37y3KA2NLzmeCt%2Brp8%2B6118ibr%2Fyg%2FkhUw9QJ2ekkzPSiUc6GdwnPciJU%2BQMcqKaI8OfQE5OICc9xjs1Pct38%2BtGYSAoOBQaak%2BPPX7%2FDzF4PwfMfBP%2BdAz%2FxcR9jal9f%2F87

In an interview with CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the Sackler family doesn’t “want to accept blame for this.”

“They blame doctors, they blame prescribers and worst of all, they blame patients,” Healey said.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma called the release of the redacted information “part of a continuing effort to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

According to a court order, the state has until midday Friday to release the redacted information. It is unclear who released it early.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office told CBS News it did not release the redacted information and would not confirm the information in ProPublica’s article.

https://www.cbsnews.com/embed/video/?v=1.e06f8975c0ec0e5f2be40d188881fa3524aef487#1VZtb9s2EP4rgoANG2DaerdkoBjapt26N2RNu36oC4MizxYXSVRJKo5b5L%2FvTlLsbMvQDUOLNUZsijze6%2FPc6b3Pe6e7mh%2F81ZbXFmb%2BlZKg%2FdV7XzlorL96%2Fd53hw78lX%2BlpT%2FzlcRlnEOSJbFgseDAEghClkdFwGDLoYxTWYRBgrJNd%2F0cts%2FoxvmL9vJVtZSQffv2nSpf5a%2FU492vG%2Fj%2BKX9Spd8%2FHqUH0bzti7eJvF7G8XPctnW%2Fw13LxWUNhm15o%2BoD2ytXMafAMqcZWAfQgGSqtU653indWmYdP1j2tlfgmG6Z7pRWkgmjrLKMC9FbPgiiDbxUU4gXoxFvNLLyfqHLnm698bI3XvZEzVVj5%2FM5Xt32dX3%2F9ZlHTnrkpOe0d%2Bukd9fJmTd46b2939AfvRS81a0SvH7xaew51aAS3nT%2BKkyTPAmLNArwb%2BbL3gxS%2FiqO49Pjj7yEGv0KUtxHBfX43GKKEDgN34ElZFmqcuVcZ1frxXohStvC3oZzXCi055SYC92sF1VfrhdqvTDrRRSExXoRhLhK14ttsZVFWQYsEDxjSRAJViRRwJZpEizDWEZpEK8XruqbsuWqXi%2ByJLiOs2C9SDCCuJB5AkkhgiIqtqngOaRhgCJpWJKNKGXCNawDI3uYYDehTupL3XeqZuEyyxDkbFI8%2F63bYbzVvYHFHzGwMMqD62WEkcUS4jRe5jITkKZLnsTbgAcx%2FhdRGW%2F5f4nsZuZ3Bq4U7F8aqi8F1%2FVljfFc4eX2egxLKgPCrRf5VsThMowkoM8QiDgRaSqSUkAQx1mYoLP%2FoH%2BgCaOzAi3sVSv1ft501FOm%2FoQ%2B8A5TeIWZ26oanLYW8%2FGN1b0R8EB1XGIDMIDRtbsvO%2B6qB19ET5EOitNvd43flHv8CUJap%2FgVJnGYY0ZjTGA8nETp5vGLnzbnQ8Ymuj0dMrY5mzL207OzV08uXmzGxMWbrtItzJu4z2%2B9jT4bd%2FuhvCcE7%2Ff7%2BYTiscRDPOvFx2vG6wXNGPus6TTqMcexhFNKiWEsEceSLEiyNMqRGLlkYQgRK2QYsSAI8y3kPAjK4DQ6MALmKrTTaNNifompCgw3osK595rOPTr3bs%2FfIOChU1ZL7LIh6gFuqdn5ISmFXQOtGw%2F6Dolh7dFNXtcPhcCdR7UWl8fWZ19aMBd9aTHgEuRR3HYYsja3chVcPzxDDvS1oy46w48%2F7D467cbFLElnaeHfvMGRCY4PHdVhA4bdgda4V2lKEu86aKV%2Fc3NMxFA9pq%2FA4MRnne76mhtq9OOAr7FJjem5HWjEfFQtLmmbkm%2BftLysKQJneorXYFOr4WGPNg1N79d%2BHEguZClYxnP%2Bd7V586erP%2FMGplIQ2LyvKiUltF55qFULX9%2BRH14RMtTDiyxkUVhi%2FyiTgvFlljJsOmGY8ChDq%2F7xynlfnmF68B5RiGGziUMvjFZhtkrTk9jtVO16Yo%2FXVdw03Kv53vbKrTwDGNeAUQ8zyw1ioD54ttJ7T5p%2B5yE%2FOt4evD1vHU5dnMACKe94rd7BnUnLpVSDGo%2Fo7ghKM9TdaeM8ixy5489YFaFRX%2Bs20y6eS2zF4vZYgr1EcgysOYMrChLXHc7aSYDyuaGXOcIu%2Fn6niFb3oX48vwAxjva%2FSowCk17EPaFXXYG3h9KfKPrsX9BzuDBW%2Fj5bPXJmskUvPrhTXl6gfTKBrx34GlKrRiEnkmPKLoZ2OqmjwOmS4a08r7nbatMM7k0g21Awm1P%2B6PHkzXRbQqN3hneVEj%2FAgd6H%2Fd90%2BbRvxyTN6OkxcU%2BbA9WglT2SkZaEhx5b2LnRWyUUtOJ2F1FygaDApx0SFIiBWK5vDfbnQaJvSQOWwwGip2%2BIeR1pqe%2F4Rt6iNLRUcjyVxNXjG%2BLLDzVyWtEQJ6izEepsgjo7IZ2dkM4I6Wxyn40gp3Z%2FAvmdvn4EOTuCnI0YH9SMXX6YbucaA0HBqdDQUHsc8fs5xEB%2BTpj5X%2FgzdPgPJu5TTPGbm98B

James Grindel & Richard Drost charged in drug-related death of 34 year old Nina Wallace

L-R: James Grindel, 54, of Waltham; Richard Drost, 44, of Sullivan

FRANKLIN, Maine — Two men have been charged following a months-long investigation into the drug-related death of a woman from Sullivan.

On Aug. 25, officials responded to South Bay Road in Franklin after a report of a female who was not breathing. Nina Wallace, 34, ultimately died, and officials began an investigation into the cause of her death.

Trooper Dana Austin and Detective Greg Roy found that James Grindel of Waltham and Richard Drost of Sullivan had furnished and sold fentanyl to Nina, and the drug had contributed to her death. Both suspects were friends with her.

In late December, Grindel was charged with unlawful furnishing of schedule drugs, and on Monday, Drost was also arrested for unlawful trafficking of schedule drugs.

Author: Chloe Teboe, Newscenter Maine

Boston Medical Center Nurse Denied Life Insurance Because She Carries Naloxone

Isela was denied life insurance because her medication list showed a prescription for the opioid-reversal drug naloxone. The Boston Medical Center nurse says she wants to have the drug on hand so she can save others.

Bloodwork was supposed to be the last step in Isela’s application for life insurance. But when she arrived at the lab, her appointment had been canceled.

“That was my first warning,” Isela says. She contacted her insurance agent and was told her application was denied because something on her medication list indicated that Isela uses drugs. Isela, a registered nurse who works in an addiction treatment program at Boston Medical Center, scanned her med list. It showed a prescription for the opioid-reversal drug naloxone — brand name Narcan.

“But I’m a nurse, I use it to help people,” Isela remembers telling her agent. “If there is an overdose, I could save their life.”

That’s a message public health leaders aim to spread far and wide. “BE PREPARED. GET NALOXONE. SAVE A LIFE,” was the message at the top of a summary advisory from the U.S. surgeon general in April.

But some life insurers consider the use of prescription drugs when reviewing policy applicants. And it can be difficult, some say, to tell the difference between someone who carries naloxone to save others and someone who carries naloxone because they are at risk for an overdose.

Primerica is the insurer Isela says turned her down. (NPR has agreed to use just Isela’s first name because she is worried about how this story might affect her ongoing ability to get life insurance.) The company says it can’t discuss individual cases. But in a prepared statement, Primerica notes that naloxone has become increasingly available over the counter.

“Now, if a life insurance applicant has a prescription for naloxone, we request more information about its intended use as part of our underwriting process,” says Keith Hancock, the vice president for corporate communications. “Primerica is supportive of efforts to help turn the tide on the national opioid epidemic.”

After Primerica turned her down, Isela applied to a second life insurer and was again denied coverage. But the second company told her it might reconsider if she obtained a letter from her doctor explaining why she needs naloxone. So, Isela did contact her primary care physician — and then realized that her doctor had not prescribed the drug.

Isela had bought naloxone at a pharmacy. To help reduce overdose deaths, Massachusetts and many other states have established a standing order for naloxone — one prescription that works for everybody. Isela couldn’t just give her insurer that statewide prescription; she had to find the doctor who signed it. As it happens, that physician — Dr. Alex Walley — also works at Boston Medical Center.

Walley is an associate professor of medicine at Boston University; he also works in addiction medicine at Boston Medical Center and is the medical director for the Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“We want naloxone to be available to a wide group of people — people who have an opioid use disorder themselves, but also [those in] their social networks and other people in a position to rescue them,” Walley says.

He says he’s written a half dozen letters for other BMC employees denied life or disability insurance because of naloxone, and that troubles him.

“My biggest concern is that people will be discouraged by this from going to get a naloxone rescue kit at the pharmacy,” Walley says. “So this has been frustrating.”

The life insurance hassle — and threat of being turned to down — has discouraged Isela and some of her fellow nurses. She is not carrying a naloxone kit outside the hospital right now because she doesn’t want it to show up on her active medication list until the life insurance problem is sorted out.

“So if something were to happen on the street, I don’t have one — just because I didn’t want another conflict,” Isela said.

BMC has alerted the state’s Division of Insurance, which has said in a written response that it is reviewing the cases and drafting guidelines for “the reasonable use of drug history information in determining whether to issue a life insurance policy.”

But Isela isn’t a drug user. And yet, she is being penalized as if she were.

Michael Botticelli, who runs the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at BMC, says friends and family members of patients with an addiction must be able to carry naloxone without fear that doing so will send them to the insurance reject pile.

“It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure that we try to kind of nip this in the bud,” he says, “before it is any more wide-scale.”

Botticelli says increased access to naloxone across Massachusetts is one of the main reasons overdose deaths are down in the state. The most recent state report shows 20 fewer fatalities this year compared to last.

Botticelli relayed his concerns in a letter to Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general, who says he contacted the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That group says it has not heard of any cases of life insurance applicants being denied because they purchased naloxone.

Adams says it’s good to, as Botticelli suggests, nip the problem in the bud.

“Naloxone saves lives,” Adams says, “and it is important that all Americans know about the vital role bystanders can play in preventing opioid overdose deaths when equipped with this lifesaving medication.”

Isela says the second company that rejected her has agreed to let her reapply, in light of Walley’s letter stating that she carries the drug so that she can reverse an overdose. Isela is in the process of reapplying.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WBUR and Kaiser Health News.

Christopher Nault, 50, dies mysteriously while incarcerated at Maine State Prison

WARREN (NEWS CENTER Maine) — Maine’s Corrections Department announced Friday the death of a 50-year-old Maine State Prison inmate.

Christopher Q. Nault died shortly before 6:45 a.m. Friday, the department said.

Details regarding the prisoner’s death were not disclosed.

Following protocol, state police and the medical examiner’s officer were notified.

Nault was serving a two-year probation revocation, which began on Jan. 5, 2018.

According to prison records found online, Nault was sentenced on Jan. 2 in Somerset County court, and his earliest custody release date was slated for July 2 of next year.

FBI captures Maine fugitive in Sanford

SANFORD (NEWS CENTER Maine) — A wanted fugitive from the Sanford village of Springvale was taken into custody Friday by federal and local law enforcement.

The FBI announced Wednesday a $5,000 tip leading to Joshua Patrick Weldon’s arrest.

A spokesperson said the FBI safely took Weldon into custody at about 3 p.m. in Sanford with assistance from Maine State Police and the Sanford Police Department.

Weldon, who was considered armed and dangerous, had been wanted on a bail violation stemming from an Aug. 13 fentanyl-related charge, as well as evading officers on Nov. 6, according to the FBI.

“We’ve received dozens of tips over the last few days which were invaluable in bringing the investigation to a successful conclusion,” the spokespersons said. “We thank the public for its assistance.”

Here’s the updated wanted poster from the FBI:

Joshua Patrick Weldon: Captured by NEWSCENTER26 on Scribd

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/393397851/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-APTPrvOmt34twNlxKoL8&show_recommendations=true

The life and death of Maddie Linsenmeir

The life and death of Maddie Linsenmeir

Maddie, who died aged 30 in September, and her son AydenMaddie, who died aged 30 in September, and her son Ayden

On 14 October, an obituary about a young woman from a small American town went viral on social media.

It described the life and death of 30-year-old Maddie Linsenmeir, Mum to two-year-old Ayden.

Her sister Kate O’Neill wrote the obituary in a local newspaper. She told the BBC it was to show a human face behind a crisis plaguing America.

After taking a painkiller, at the age of 18, Maddie became addicted, and eventually died from an overdose in Burlington, Vermont.

The love and support her family received when the tribute went viral has been “wonderful”, Kate says, adding: “We hope this goes some way to reducing the social stigma of addiction.”

On Wednesday, President Trump signed a new bill to help tackle the epidemic, but Maddie’s family says the country is failing to support the 2 million Americans addicted to opioids, a class of drug that includes heroin and prescription drugs like painkillers.

Last year, 72,000 people in America died from a drugs overdose, the highest number in history. The sharpest increase were deaths from fentanyl.

Maddie LinseneirMaddie Linsenmeir

“My sister was a beautiful, bright woman. She had wanted to star in Broadway musicals and she had the voice for it. She was exuberant in her love and affection for everyone,” Kate, who is 46 and lives in Philadelphia, says.

Maddie first took what turned out to be a highly addictive painkiller called Oxycontin at a party when she was a teenager.

She quickly became an addict, and in the US, drugs are easy to get hold of. Authorities have seized enough fentanyl to kill every single American.

American doctors widely prescribe opioids for pain management, and pharmaceutical companies are allowed to advertise drugs on television, including in primetime slots such as the Superbowl in 2015.

“Loving someone addicted to drugs is really tough and being addicted to drugs is really hard,” Kate explains.

“Being a drug addict is the same kind of drudgery as normal life – getting up, going to work, paying bills. But it is much harder – you’re trying to get up and get the money for a score.”

‘Very low lows’

In the 12 years between that first pill and her death, Maddie tried many times to get clean.

“Whenever she was using she wanted to end it. Sometimes it would be every couple of months, and she would hit very low lows,” Kate explains.

“She tried so hard, and that’s the thing that people don’t understand – America makes it very hard to get clean.”

Maddie was failed by institutions and systems that should have helped her overcome her addiction, her family says.

Maddie, second from the left, wanted to be a Broadway singerleft to right: sisters Maura, Kate, Maddie, and their mother Maureen

“Any doctor in this country can prescribe highly addictive painkillers, but to prescribe medicine shown to help patients recover, doctors have to get a special waiver.

“It’s very hard to get methadone [a heroin substitute that can help reduce addiction over time], people have to stand in line in a clinic. How can you hold down a job like that?”

Kate says there were many times when her sister drove hours across Vermont state to get a bed in a recovery centre but when she arrived, it was given away or there was none available.

When in jail for minor drug offences, there was no medically assisted treatment.

‘Not a person’

This repetitive cycle was interspersed with moments of great joy and happiness for the family.

“One of my best memories is when she had Ayden – seeing how much she loved him, her singing to him. She would take him for walks to the woods or lake, no matter the weather. It was beautiful, she loved being his Mum,” Kate explains.

Ayden will now be adopted by Kate’s sister Maura and her husband.

Kate says that if Vermont, the state that elected left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders, was unable to help Maddie get clean, then she believes there is currently little hope for the rest of America:

“They failed her and continue to fail addicts.”

She advocates safe injection sites or harm reduction programmes that aim to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, including overdose.

But these programmes are not widely supported by the authorities. “They don’t want to condone people taking drugs,” Kate believes.

Maddie's son Ayden will be adopted by her sisterMaddie’s son Ayden will be adopted by her sister

In September, the Vermont Governor’s opioid council rejected proposals to open a safe injection site. In Vancouver, Canada, opening a safe injection site in 2003 led to fatal overdoses declining by 35% in the surrounding area.

After Maddie’s obituary went viral, Burlington Police chief Brandon del Pozo responded on Facebook thanking the family and writing that he was “tired of arguing with reactionaries” who opposed progressive solutions to addiction.

Kate says people have stopped seeing drug addicts as people.

Describing officials and doctors who visibly changed their attitude to Maddie once they learned about her illness, she says she was routinely shocked by the lack of empathy for addicts:

“Police officers, lawyers, correctional officers – when they found out someone is an addict, they see a junkie, not a person with a disease who is suffering.”

Kate is at pains to point out that although her young, good-looking sister has attracted global attention, that shouldn’t overshadow the plight of the thousands of less photogenic addicts who are also suffering.

“If people feel empathy for Maddie, they should feel that for addicts at their lowest, who may be begging on the streets or injecting under bridges.”

She also wrote the obituary to speak to people working in the system who helped her sister.

“She was touched by individuals who just went above and beyond.

“After he read it, a man sent us a message saying he had been sober 18 years, and he would stay sober that day for Maddie.”