Jen Zampogna is a wife and mother of two. She’s also director of operations for an organization that helps attorneys with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Jen grew up with lots of opportunities and made the most of it, working hard and earning two degrees from Georgetown. These days, she’s an expert in her field, asked to sit on a state committee and many others.
But in between her many accomplishments, her life took a very dark turn. Jen used to be Dr. Jennifer Zampogna.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my active addiction,” she said.
As a hugely successful dermatologist, she developed severe opioid use disorder. It started with a prescription for neck pain and spiraled into her writing herself 415 illegal prescriptions — thousands of hydrocodone pills — in other people’s names.
She was arrested at the medical practice she owned.
“It was mortifying,” she said. “It was humiliating, but it was exactly what needed to happen.”
“I could have lost my children. My husband could have left me. I ultimately lost my medical license and my medical practice. I thought I lost everything. I was helpless, hopeless, and so filled with shame and guilt.”
That was 12 years ago. She was only 37. She pleaded guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to probation.
In recovery ever since, she’s had to look back at how this happened.
“I remember where I was the first time I took that prescription pill,” she said. “I felt like I put on a cape and that I was Superwoman.”
That was the first sign.
“There were times that I tried to stop on my own, for sure. I’d be violently ill in my house for a week and then I’d go right back to it because I was so sick. I was so afraid to ask for help.”
“That’s what addiction does to you,” she said. “It brought me to my knees. It stole my mind first, then it tried to steal my life.”
As terrified and humiliated as she was during her very public arrest, Jen says it was also a relief. She knew this years-long nightmare was coming to an end.
“I’m grateful to be someone in recovery,” she said.
“You can end up on the front page of the paper and lose your reputation and be called terrible, horrible things, and you can still overcome and you can get healthy and live an amazing life. That’s the example I want to set for my kids.”
She could work to get her medical license back but says she won’t; the new life she has built for herself is working just fine.
“My life before was great. My life in active recovery is a thousand times better.”
Jen is very active in telling her story publicly, whether on a panel discussion or helping advise state committees working on the opioid crisis.