Lawsuit: Addicted to opioids, she sought help. She was arrested, then ended up dead

Last month, I relayed the obituary of Maddy Lisenmeier, whose family wrote about her addiction to opioids in a heartbreaking way.

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.

We know a little more about her death now, and also about that last paragraph. She died in police custody. Her arrest reveals one of the difficulties people who are addicted have asking for help.

“I need to go to the hospital I am dying I weigh 90 pounds mom I need you,” she wrote in a text to her mother.

There was a problem, though. The hospital checks for warrants, she feared, and Maddie had several of them.

Sure enough, she was arrested and jailed on the warrants, according to a suit the family has filed against the Springfield, Vt. Mass. police department, the Boston Globe reports. (note: it is unclear whether she ever actually went to the hospital. In a series of text messages with her, her mother begged her to go to the hospital and at one point Maddy said she would.)

Shortly after her arrest, Linsenmeir was allowed to call her mother. During the call, she was distraught and said she was not receiving medical attention, according to a statement from attorneys representing her relatives.

During the phone conversation, “a police officer on the line refused to provide medical attention and even made a sarcastic comment after Linsenmeir’s mother reiterated that her daughter needed care,” according to a statement from the family’s lawyers.

Linsenmeir was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. On Oct. 4, she was rushed to the Baystate Medical Center and admitted to an intensive care unit. Within a day, she was intubated and sedated. Days later, she died.

“We know she was refused medical attention upon booking and was rushed to the hospital five days later but are left to draw our own conclusions about what occurred in between,” the family said in a statement. “We have a right to know what happened to our daughter and sister while she was in the care of the SPD and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”

Related: An old Minnesota jail is now a leader for inmate mental health (MPR News)

  • KariBemidji

    Whoa. The hospital staff checks the warrant list before admitting the patient? And then calls the police before admitting the patient? And then sends them to jail before admitting the patient? This hospital deserves all that the family, state and federal government throws at them (and I hope it’s more than a hug and an apology). They’ve violated both EMTALA and HIPAA. Yikes.

    • Guest

      It all makes sense once you realize the cost savings of ER treatment they will NOT get from the patient. From the government yes, patient no.

      Government is supposed to bring them back for treatment and then would pay the bill.

      I assume anyone is entitled to look for open warrants, no HIPAA violation (in the mind of the Hospital cost accountant)

      • KariBemidji

        It’s the HIPAA violation when they call the police.

      • Kassie

        I don’t understand your point. Someone with a warrant for their arrest is just as likely to have health insurance as anyone else. Take the woman in this case. As a parent of a child and probably without a job, she would qualify for Medicaid and would have the entire bill covered. How is sending her away to the police where they may bring her to another hospital or have their own State medical team take care of her. It seems the hospital would be better off financially keeping them there. Plus, its a HIPAA violation as stated.

  • MrE85

    So many headlines regarding interactions with the police have similar headlines these days.

    “They sought help for their mentally ill friend in crisis, who ended up shot by police”
    “She called 911 to report a possible assault, but the cops shot her instead”
    “He pulled his legally concealed firearm to help protect the crowd, the cops saw only a killer with a gun”

  • Laurie K.

    At some point, and I sincerely hope that it is within my lifetime, we will learn as a society that addiction is a public health concern, not a problem to be solved by criminalizing a disease. In 2001 Portugal (yes, Portugal, one of the poorest countries in the EU) decriminalized drug use and as a result saw their citizens seeking treatment rise and addiction and overdose rates decline. People struggling with addiction are so much more than the sum of their disease and we need to figure out a way to treat the disease, not punish the diseased.

  • lindblomeagles

    In all honesty, the system and our culture is really the problem here. I still have no idea why or how our nation continues to receive such vast quantities of legal and illegal drugs. I mentioned this on a post before. Poorer third world nations just don’t get as many drugs into their borders as we do here in the United States. Combine that with drugs that are so difficult to overcome once you are addicted (opiods, heroin, crack cocaine, meth) plus a society that avoids having a frank and honest conversation about drug rehabilitation and policy, well you concoct a recipe that would, as expected, claim so many lives. On top of that, we have a law enforcement department that almost never gets fired or criminalized when their judgment unnecessarily costs the lives of people doing innocent things.

  • AL287

    I think perhaps some re-education for the police is in order.

    Whether they know it or not, a patient withdrawing cold turkey without a bridging drug like methadone or buprenorphine can and will die, usually from uncontrolled seizures.

    It is beastly torturous and in many cases deadly.

    Giving a jailed addict the appropriate drugs until they can be admitted to a facility where they can safely get clean is not feeding their addiction. If you can administer Tylenol for a headache, you can administer methadone or buprenorphine.

    This tragedy was a lack of empathy combined with deadly ignorance.

    The monetary penalty (if there is one) must be large enough to prevent a recurrence.

    Sadly, there is a good possibility that won’t happen.