MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WWBT) – A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose is on an addiction-related ‘2 End the Stigma’ mission as Virginia prepares to receive landmark funding to fight addiction. opioid crisis.
It’s been five years since Jill Cichowicz lost her twin brother, Scott Zebrowski, to an accidental overdose, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him. The times they spent together were very special since he lived 3,000 miles away in California.
“I have the blanket he slept in in my closet, and every night I hug it goodnight, and every morning I hug it hello,” said Cichowicz, who was comfortably surrounded by family photos spread out in her living room.
It’s the little things that mean so much to Cichowicz when it comes to keeping his brother’s memory alive. She keeps a framed photo of the two, on what would be Scott’s last Christmas, just steps from the front door. She looks at this photo before leaving her house to give her a little more strength to get through each day.
“We [family] dread the holidays,” Cichowicz said as she grew emotional thinking of him. “Our anniversary, June 24, is probably the hardest thing for me.”
On February 28, 2017, Scott fell to the ground in a Starbucks parking lot in Los Angeles and never got up. He had just taken what was believed to be Oxycontin from a friend, but in reality it was a much stronger opioid – fentanyl. It cost Scott his life within minutes.
Cichowicz and his family were unaware of what happened until they were told two days later.
Three years before Scott died, he injured his back at work. Cichowicz said the treatment, which involved Oxycontin, triggered addiction.
“I think he had four scenarios for 90 pills a week,” she said. “When it ran out was when a Costco pharmacist realized it was over-prescribed.”
Knowing his brother inside out, it didn’t take long to notice subtle changes.
“We could see that he was gradually becoming lethargic,” she explained. “When you talk to him, his voice is garbled; there would be a day or two when he wouldn’t call you back.
Cichowicz said his brother was never the same again and that oxycontin “woke the beast.”
Since losing his brother, Cichowicz and his family have turned pain into purpose. They partnered with the McShin Foundation, a Richmond-based addiction treatment center, and started a scholarship fund in Scott’s name to help program participants afford recovery services.
They also host an annual “A Night for Scott” charity event which raises awareness and funds.
Nearly two years ago, Cichowicz also started the nonprofit “2 End the Stigma,” hoping to normalize the need for addiction help. She said the first thing people need to recognize is that a problem exists.
“A lot of people are embarrassed,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about it.”
According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, the opioid crisis shows no signs of abating.
In Virginia, the number of opioid overdose deaths has trended upward from 2015 to 2020. Data for the last quarter of 2021 has not been released.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, there were 1,915 deaths, a 47.5% increase on the previous year – but help is on the way.
According to Victoria LaCivita, spokeswoman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, the state will receive $530 million from a nationwide settlement to address the opioid crisis.
LaCivita said a national administrator would begin releasing the funds this month. Still, it’s unclear whether the money will be dispersed in increments over a period of time despite a request for clarification. The settlement involves three major pharmaceutical distributors: Cardinal, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen. Johnson and Johnson is also part of the settlement.
The money will be the biggest investment in recovery programs across Virginia, according to LaCivita. Most of the funds will go to Virginia’s Opioid Abatement Authority, which provides grants and loans to agencies and localities in Virginia.
The second biggest investment could come from Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, which agreed to pay up to $6 billion in a nationwide settlement, but litigation is still ongoing.
It’s unclear how much Virginia will get from this settlement.
“No amount of money can bring back loved ones who have been lost to addiction,” Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement. “But this money is a vital step in Virginia’s fight against the opioid epidemic to help Virginians recover from opioid abuse and help prevent addiction in the future through educational programs. and community.”
A vital step that Cichowicz, who is currently developing a prevention program for schools, hopes to make a difference in the lives of people struggling with drug addiction like his brother did.
“The girl I was before Scott died, she’s gone; she is no longer there,” she said. “I don’t recognize myself anymore, but not in a bad way.”
“I think I look at the world with more empathy, like I want to help people.”
You can read more about 2 End the Stigma HERE.
Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.
Send it to 12 here.
Want the best NBC12 stories in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.