As opioid epidemic rages on, Delaware and local groups will honor those lost to overdoses

When MaryBeth Cichocki's son died from an accidental overdose in 2015, all she wanted was a community that understood her grief.

There was no local support group specifically for parents who lost children to substance use disorder at the time, so Cichocki tried a general nonprofit-led group for grieving families. But whenever she tried to talk about her son Matt, all she got was judgment. Unlike the deaths of other parents' children who died of cancer or in car accidents, an OxyContin overdose was not seen as an "acceptable form of death," Cichocki said.

As the mother put it, "nobody brings casseroles" when someone loses a loved one to addiction.

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Eventually, Cichocki stopped attending the support group. And then, at her husband's suggestion, she started her own: Support After Addiction Death. The group initially met in person each month at her church in Bear. Then, when meetings moved online because of the pandemic, Support After Addiction Death grew into a national support network.

But on Aug. 31, Support After Addiction Death will once again focus on the local community with an Overdose Awareness Day vigil in Cichocki's son's memorial garden outside Faith Lutheran Church at 7 p.m. Like in past years, parents can bring pictures of their children who died from overdoses and share their stories. The pastor will lead the group in prayer and play the guitar, and once it's dark out, attendees can light luminaries with their children's names on them.

"You just can stand there and feel like you are among parents who know your grief," Cichocki said.

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Delaware officially designated Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day last year, though the day has been recognized internationally since 2001. All flags in the state will be lowered to half-staff in honor of the lives lost to substance use disorder. Delaware consistently has one of the highest rates of fatal overdoses in the nation.

Despite the ever-rising death toll of the opioid epidemic, the stigma is still strong.

Substance use disorder and overdose prevention is still a "taboo discussion" in most settings, according to Delaware Community Response Teams co-chair Jackie Tomasetti. The organization works to spread awareness and share resources for overdose prevention.

However, the stigma and related "not in my community" perspective on addiction make a formidable barrier. Tomasetti said this makes it hard to even give out naloxone, the life-saving medication more commonly known as Narcan that can reverse an overdose.

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"We all play a large part in our community, and our community is struggling," Tomasetti said. "Whether (people) know it or not, they've been affected."

This year, Delaware Community Response Teams is helping the addiction support group Face the Facts with its annual Overdose Awareness Day event on Aug. 26. Face the Facts was founded by Penny Rogers, who lost her son Vincente Tambourelli to a fatal overdose in 2017.

"The stigma is alive and well," Rogers said. "You think you're the only person in the whole world whose kid ... or spouse has this disease."

In reality, though, Rogers said that's not the case. She's built a community of people affected by addiction through her organization Face the Facts. At her third Overdose Awareness Day event on Aug. 26, she hopes to expand that support network even wider.

Penny Rogers holds a picture of her and her 23-year-old son, Vincente Tambourelli. Vincente died of a heroin overdose on July 14, 2017.
Penny Rogers holds a picture of her and her 23-year-old son, Vincente Tambourelli. Vincente died of a heroin overdose on July 14, 2017.

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Members of the public — both those directly impacted by substance use disorder and those seeking to educate themselves — can come to Delcastle Park from 5-7:30 p.m. to learn about over 50 community resource organizations, including hospitals, outpatient resources, support groups and sober houses, according to Tomasetti. There will also be activities for children; food trucks; and keynote speakers, including U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and professional skateboarder Brandon Novak, who is in recovery from substance use disorder.

"It can't just be about the ones we've lost," Rogers said. "It has to be about the ones we're trying to save."

How to find help

Delaware Hope Line: 833-9-HOPEDE for free 24/7 counseling, coaching and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction and crisis services. Resources can also be found on the Help is Here website.

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

SAMHSA National Helpline:  800-662-HELP (4357) for free 24/7 substance abuse disorder treatment referral services. Treatment service locators are also available online at or via text message by sending your ZIP code to 435748.

Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at For more reporting, follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware Overdose Awareness Day: Where to get help, honor loved ones