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New WV substance abuse line logs 1,600 calls

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s first 24-hour substance abuse and mental health call line – 1-844-HELP4WV – has already received more than 1,600 calls since being launched last fall by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

And there’s more good news because addicts – as well as family members – are using this resource when they are ready to get specialized information about drug treatment and recovery services, according to state officials.

The 24-hour line is a collaborative effort between the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and First Choice Systems, a West Virginia-based company that has successfully operated West Virginia’s Problem Gambler Help Line for more than 15 years.

Tomblin, in announcing the new number last September, said he felt it was a way to empower addicts to take charge of their own recovery.

“Those struggling with addiction are often afraid to take the first step and seek help. With this hotline, we are offering West Virginians across the state the opportunity to talk to professionals, discuss available treatment options, choose a path and begin the road to recovery,” Gov. Tomblin said in a Sept. 9 press release.

That’s what has happened, according to DHHR Bureau for Behaviorial Health and Health Facilities Deputy Commissioner Kimberly Walsh, who chaired Monday’s Governor’s Regional Substance Abuse Task Forces meeting.

At that time, Walsh explained this is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to implement public education and outreach programs aimed at helping reduce the growing substance abuse problem.

“We are hoping to provide a consistent message and campaign regarding the disease of addiction,” she said, adding that various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also being used to reach people.

“But by making this telephone call, they can reach out and talk to someone right when they feel the need to do that. They get a live person, 24-hours a day and that makes a difference from what we are hearing,” Walsh said.

Calls range from people facing a personal crisis to individuals looking for advice on rehab programs and facilities, she said.

“We have gotten a lot of positive feedback indicating that people are getting the help they need in a timely fashion,” Walsh said.

First Choice Services Outreach Coordinator Jeremy Smith said it is important to be available when an addict feels strong enough to seek help.

“When an individual feels ready to get help, it is easy for them to get discouraged by red tape or not finding some place where they can get assistance. One of the most important things we do is to help them navigate the process,” Smith said.

It’s even possible to facilitate a three-way call so that the caller and treatment provider can work through the trained staffers who assist on the line, he said.

“These facilities know us by name, and that lends some extra legitimacy to the process,” Smith said.

While friends or family are welcome to call, it is generally best to have the addict involved in seeking help, he said.

“It makes a big difference if we can get that person on the phone and involved in the process,” Smith said.

No callers are placed on hold and can be immediately connected with treatment staff to help determine the most appropriate treatment option. The call line also provides appointment reminders, directions, and transportation assistance to ensure callers remember their appointments and show up on time.

Follow-up phone calls are placed after the first appointment, the first month, and the first three months to help patients stay on track and have access to any additional clinical information or resources on community-based programs and local support groups.

Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or

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