My name is Kate O’Neill, and I’m a writer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2018, my sister Madelyn Linsenmeir died while incarcerated after a decade-long struggle with substance-use disorder. Though her disease had a powerful hold on her, my family believed until she took her last breath that Maddie would survive. Our hearts are broken that she did not.
The obituary I wrote for my sister went viral and was read by millions of people around the world. The outpouring of love and support my family received was of great comfort as we grieved our girl, and an awakening to the fact that we were not, and never had been, alone. The reaction was also a powerful reminder of how many people are affected by the disease of addiction, and of its many devastating consequences.
In January of 2019 I left my job in communications at a tech company to work for a Vermont newspaper on a yearlong series about the addiction crisis. I’ve covered issues that affected my sister directly, including sex trafficking, harm reduction, the impact of illicit substance use on pregnant women and families with young children, as well as addiction in rural communities and the history of the opioid crisis in the state where my sisters and I grew up.
I’m now working on a book about Maddie, my family’s experience loving her, what we’ve learned since she died and wish we’d known when she was alive.
This website is a portfolio for my writing, but if you’re reading this and actively struggling with addiction, here are a few things I wish I’d told my sister when she was alive:
Please stay safe. If you use opioids, carry naloxone. Don’t use alone. Clean your skin before you inject. Test your drugs with strips or by using a small dose first. Use sterile equipment.
And here’s something I told her every time we spoke, that I whispered to the universe hoping it would reach her ear when we were apart:
No matter how dark things are, how alone you feel, how hopeless things seem, know that you are loved.
You. Are. Loved.
If you’re interested in treatment, this national helpline can connect you to resources:
If you’re not, you can learn more about how to stay safe while using at the Harm Reduction Coalition website.
Thanks for visiting.