She Has Learned What a Fatal Overdose Sounds Like

Meet an operator for Never Use Alone
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2023 5:30 AM CDT
When Drug Users Fear They'll Die Alone, They Call Her
   (Getty Images / Natalia Shabasheva)

Jessica Blanchard has become an expert in knowing when an overdose is likely to be fatal—all by listening to the person on the other end of the phone line. Writing for Slate, Mary Harris and Aymann Ismail explain Blanchard is an operator for Never Use Alone. It's a scrappy 4-year-old hotline that fields about 250 calls a week and is just what it sounds like: A drug user who is about to use but afraid that doing so alone could result in death should they overdose can call Never Use Alone and have someone stay on the line with them while they get high. The comfort comes in knowing the operator will call emergency services if they become unresponsive. Blanchard has developed her own script over the years: getting the person's callback number and address and making sure things would be as easy as possible for EMS to get to them.

That means making sure the front door is unlocked and that any pets are put somewhere safe. Blanchard maintains what she calls a "recipe box" of index cards bearing details on past callers, which streamlines things in the case of repeat callers. As Harris and Ismail explain, the drug user Blanchard knows the best is her 23-year-old daughter, Kaylen, who's ODed 11 times in the past five years. Blanchard says she "unlearned everything she had been taught in nursing school about drug addiction" after learning of her daughter's first overdose and focused on "harm reduction." Blanchard explains, "I didn't want her to die. ... We can work with anything but death." Never Use Alone has been successful in preventing it: "We've detected 97 overdoses on the line. ... All 97 people are alive to tell their story today." (Read the full piece.)

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