Midlothian mom loses brother to opioid addiction and starts nonprofit to help others on the road to recovery

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WWBT) — A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a mission ‘2 End the Stigma’ involving addiction as Virginia prepares to uncover historic means to to fight the opioid crisis.

It’s been five years since Jill Cichowicz lost her twin brother, Scott Zebrowski, to an accidental drug overdose, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him. The moments they shared were extra special as he lived 3,000 miles away in California.

“I have the blanket that he used to sleep with 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 dotted around her living room .

It’s the little things that mean so much to Cichowicz when it comes to keeping her brother’s memory alive. She keeps a framed photo of the two of them at Scott’s last Christmas a few yards from the front door. She looks at this photo before leaving home to give her a little more strength to get through each day.

“We [family] Fear of holidays,” Cichowicz said, getting emotional at the thought of him. “Our birthday, June 24th, is probably the most difficult thing for me.”

A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a mission ‘2 End the Stigma’ involving addiction as Virginia prepares to obtain historic funds to combat the opioid crisis.(Jill Cichowicz)

On February 28, 2017, Scott fell to the ground in a Starbucks parking lot in Los Angeles and couldn’t get up. He had just taken what was believed to be Oxycontin from a friend, but was actually a much stronger opioid – fentanyl. It took Scott’s life within minutes.

Cichowicz and her family didn’t know what happened until they were notified two days later.

Three years before Scott died, he suffered a back injury at work. Cichowicz said the treatment, which involved Oxycontin, sparked an addiction to it.

“I think he had four scripts for 90 pills a week,” she said. “When he went out, a Costco pharmacist noticed he was overprescribed.”

Knowing her brother inside out, it didn’t take long for me to notice subtle changes.

“We could see that he was becoming increasingly lethargic,” she explained. “If you speak to him, his voice would be slurred; There was a day or two when he didn’t call you back.”

Cichowicz said her brother was never the same and that Oxycontin “woke the beast.”

A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a 2 End...
A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a mission ‘2 End the Stigma’ involving addiction as Virginia prepares to obtain historic funds to combat the opioid crisis.(Jill Cichowicz)

Since losing her brother, Cichowicz and her family have turned pain into purpose. You have a partnership with the McShin Foundationa Richmond-based addiction treatment center, and established a grant fund in Scott’s name to help program participants afford recovery services.

They also host an annual charity event, A Night for Scott, which raises awareness and funding.

A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a 2 End...
A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a mission ‘2 End the Stigma’ involving addiction as Virginia prepares to obtain historic funds to combat the opioid crisis.(Jill Cichowicz)

Nearly two years ago, Cichowicz also started the nonprofit organization 2 End the Stigma in hopes of normalizing the need for help with addiction problems. She said the first thing people need to acknowledge is that a problem exists.

“It’s embarrassing for a lot of people,” she says. “They don’t want to talk about it.”

A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a 2 End...
A Midlothian mother who lost her twin brother to an accidental overdose finds herself on a mission ‘2 End the Stigma’ involving addiction as Virginia prepares to obtain historic funds to combat the opioid crisis.(Jill Cichowicz)

The opioid crisis is showing no signs of slowing down, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

In Virginia, the number of opioid overdose deaths increased from 2015 to 2020. Data from 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 percent increase from the previous year – but help is on the way.

The state will receive $530 million from a national settlement to combat the opioid crisis, according to Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Attorney General.

LaCivita said a national administrator will begin releasing the funds this month. It’s not clear, however, if the money will be phased out over a period of time, despite a request for clarification. Three major pharmaceutical distributors are involved in the settlement: Cardinal, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen. Johnson and Johnson is also part of the settlement.

The money will be the largest single investment in recovery programs in all of Virginia, according to LaCivita. Most of the funding goes to Virginia’s Opioid Abatement Authority, which provides grants and loans to Virginia government agencies and communities.

The second-biggest investment could come from Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, who agreed to pay up to $6 billion in a statewide settlement, but a lawsuit is pending.

It’s not clear how much Virginia will get from this settlement.

“No amount of money can bring back loved ones lost to addiction,” Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement. “But this money is an important step in Virginia’s fight against the opioid epidemic to help Virginians recover from opioid abuse and prevent future addiction through education and community programs.”

A major step that Cichowicz, who is now developing a prevention program for schools, hopes will transform the lives of people struggling with addiction like her brother.

“The girl I was before Scott died is gone; she’s not here anymore,” she said. “I no longer recognize myself, but not in a negative sense.”

“I think I look at the world with more empathy, like I want to help people.”

You can learn more about it 2 End the stigma HERE.

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