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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

'Seven Days' Reporter Kate O'Neill Explores Addiction, Isolation In Latest 'Hooked' Installment

A woman stands against a wall mural.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
Kate O'Neill stands for a portrait next to a mural of her sister, Madelyn Linsenmeir, at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County on Thursday. The obituary O'Neill wrote following Linsenmeir's death went viral in October 2018.

In her yearlong series, "Hooked: Stories and Solutions from Vermont's Opioid Crisis," Seven Days writer Kate O'Neill investigates the reality of opioid addiction in Vermont. O'Neill's June 5 article, "Between a 'Hub' and a Hard Place," shares three stories about the challenges of living with opioid addiction in rural areas.

Read O'Neill's Story in Seven Days

Vermont uses a "hub-and-spoke" model for addiction treatment, where "hubs" are treatment centers and "spokes" provide patients with medication-assisted treatment. These spokes should make treatment more accessible for people like Enosburg resident Sierra LaCoste, but that is not always the case.

After realizing she needed treatment, LaCoste “started going to a hub in Newport, Vermont, which was 40 miles from her home in Enosburg,” O’Neill said. “And as you can imagine, [that was] pretty difficult to do — she didn’t own a car.”

LaCoste's partner, Laci Baker, also has opioid use disorder. But Baker lives in Burlington, where transportation — and treatment — is more accessible.

"In the beginning of treatment, most people have to go every day, and Laci is able to easily get to the hub," O'Neill said. "Sierra still can't get there every day, so she's [doing] what's called 'double-dosing.' She goes every other day to the clinic, and on the second day, she's starting to have a little bit of withdrawal symptoms."

O'Neill also writes about two sets of parents whose children have struggled with opioid addiction. Dave Bishop lives in Addison County and volunteers forAddison County Transit Resources, which provides rides to Medicaid recipients. Bishop, whose daughter has opioid use disorder, frequently drives people from Addison County to Rutland or Burlington, the nearest hubs for addiction treatment.

Cheryl Rusin, whose son, Connor, died of an opioid overdose in June 2018, lives in Wilmington. According to a Vermont Department of Health report, Windham County had the highest number of people in the state who died from opioid overdoses in 2018. Connor was one of two people who died from an opioid overdose in the Deerfield Valley in the same 10-day period.

"After that happened, the town really came together and began addressing what it could do to support people with addiction in that community," O'Neill said. She added that prior to those overdoses, Rusin and her son experienced stigma as they reached out and searched for help. People either didn't know how to support them or "just look[ed] the other way."

O'Neill said that the work of people like the Bishop family, as well as the shifting attitude in Rusin’s town of Wilmington, are the kinds of actions that are needed to address the difficulties of opioid addiction in a rural state like Vermont.

Correction 6:50 p.m. This post has been updated to correct an error in the photo caption. Madelyn Linsenmeir did not die of a fatal overdose; she died of endocarditis/septicemia, after a long struggle with opioid addiction.

Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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