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As Opioid Epidemic Continues, Alive RVA Launches Warmline Staffed By Peers in Recovery

The SAARA Center of Virginia launched the Alive RVA warmline in early 2017.
The SAARA Center of Virginia launched the Alive RVA warmline in early 2017. Staffed by specialists in recovery, the warmline offers resources to those experiencing addiction and their families, from 8 am to midnight, 7 days a week. (Photo: Catherine Komp)

When someone addicted to opioids or other drugs is finally ready to get help, knowing where to go or who to call can be an obstacle. A new resource, staffed  by people in recovery themselves, aims to fill that need. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: The Alive RVA warmline number is 833-4PEERVA (833-473-3782). Find more info on the initiative and SAARA and connect with the group on Facebook.


Opioid fatalities continue to climb in Virginia. More than 1200 people died from opioids in 2017. That’s more than deaths due to guns and motor vehicle crashes.

Marjorie Yates: The addiction crisis right now is at its Zenith.

Marjorie Yates works at SAARA of Virginia, that’s The Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance.

Yates: We have never had so many people dying from addiction in this state, ever and people do not know how to access health care and they're frustrated and they give up.

Yates is the manager of recovery supports and training at the SAARA Center for Recovery in Richmond. She saw a need and an opportunity. Earlier this year, they launched the Alive RVA Project. One of it’s main programs is a “warmline.”

Alive RVA Hotline: Thank you for calling Alive RVA…

From 8:00 am to midnight, 7 days a week, the warmline is staffed by trained peer recovery specialists, people who’ve experienced addiction themselves, like Marilyn Edwards and Sean May.

Marilyn Edwards: This is awesome, being here is very cool. One of the things I love about it is I feel like I can engage. I mean, it's about recovery, so that's my whole person.

Sean May: And just to hear somebody say that wow, you know, I can really feel that you understand where I'm coming from and this has been really helpful for me. That's really fulfilling.

The peer specialists designed the program from the ground up. They assembled an up-to-date list of resources, including shelters, places to detox, methadone and Suboxone clinics, and support groups. It’s easy, says May, to give up if you search for help online and find broken links or numbers that aren’t in service.

May: If I was still in active addiction and tried to call the first three treatment places and I don't have any insurance and they want, a thousand dollars a day for me to come in -- I'm going to go back to using. So we got to be there when somebody's ready and meet them where they're at.

The RVA Alive warmline also gets calls from family members, like a mom whose daughter was going through heroin detox.

Edwards: It sounded scary, the daughter was in the background screaming in pain and yelling.

It was winter, the house had no heat or water, and she didn’t want to call police. Edwards spoke to the mom for an hour, and finally convinced her to call an ambulance. Even though the daughter initially refused treatment, Alive RVA helped connect the family with the local Community Services Board.

Edwards: I’m glad we were there for her for that initial scary time period. I think mom really needed us.

The Peer Specialists are trained to help people in crisis, but the service is called “a warmline” because they share information, resources and often just listen.

May: Sometimes you don't need to say a whole lot; the more that you let them talk, the more they'll open up and the less we need to ask, to make it a more comfortable situation instead of a clinical type atmosphere. Because sometimes too many questions can make somebody close down.

Jonathan Lang: We’re peers, we’re there with you. We know exactly what you're talking about.

Peer Specialist Jonathan Lang handles the night shift.

Lang: What we do is we listen, we relate, we validate and that's the biggest thing I think that is unique with this program.

He says another unique aspect of the program is they call people back.

Lang: We will check in on them with their permission… But there's people that we follow up with. I personally followed up with somebody a couple hours later and they were on their way to rehab. That's success for me. And I followed up with that individual's wife and he's doing great.

They’ve also found that some people prefer to text or chat, like one woman May communicated with who was not ready to talk about her addiction out loud.

May: For me, when I was typing, it made me think a little bit deeper than a verbal response because you do have that few minutes to play with, so it was very educational for me. But it also let me just think about what she was saying and was able to choose my words wisely, to where by the end of that conversation she was totally in a different place. And she continued messages back and forth for days.

Calls are picking up, following Alive RVA radio and billboard ads. SAARA’s Executive Director Paige Bullen says its an important piece in both utilizing the expertise of people in recovery and helping people with addiction.

Paige Bullen: The stigma behind addiction that’s still really prevalent is one reason why having the warmline is so important. It's really easy to pick up the phone or access the warmline online and not put yourself out there as a possible situation where you might not be ready or comfortable with.

Alive RVA is also working with hospitals. The new partnership will coordinate sending Peer Specialists to emergency rooms to provide resources for those being discharged for an overdose or other drug related incidents. For Virginia Currents, I'm Catherine Komp, WCVE News.