EP97 Saving Lives: The Never Use Alone Hotline’s Role In Overdose Prevention with Guest Mike Brown

Living While Loving Your Child Through Addiction
Living While Loving Your Child Through Addiction
EP97 Saving Lives: The Never Use Alone Hotline’s Role In Overdose Prevention with Guest Mike Brown

In this podcast episode, guest Mike Brown, president and founder of the Never Use Alone Hotline (NUA), shares his journey from substance use to becoming a recovery advocate. Mike started NUA in response to his experience with the treatment industry, focusing on harm reduction and overdose prevention. NUA operates as a peer-led nonprofit, offering support to individuals using substances alone through human connection and non-judgmental assistance. NUA operates nationwide and has partnered with emergency services to ensure timely assistance if needed.

Mike addresses common barriers to calling the hotline, such as
lack of trust, and emphasizes the importance of trusted sources sharing information about NUA. He also discusses misconceptions about harm reduction and enabling, highlighting the service’s focus on providing connection, support, and hope to callers.

Throughout the discussion, Mike emphasizes the critical role of
human connection and compassion in supporting individuals struggling with substance use, challenging traditional approaches to addiction treatment, and advocating for harm reduction practices.

In this episode you will learn:

  1. The importance of human connection and non-judgmental
    support in harm reduction and overdose prevention.
  2. Details about the services provided by NUA and how callers
    are assisted during substance use.
  3. Misconceptions about harm reduction and enabling, are clarified through Mike’s perspective.
  4. Success stories from NUA, showcasing the impact of the
    hotline in saving lives.

Contact Never Use Alone


Call Never Use Alone 877-696-1996 your Overdose Prevention Lifeline.

Resources From Heather Ross Coaching

GROUP COACHING PROGRAM –  Peace of Mind Group for moms

Get answers and support to help you and your child Sign up for a 45-minute $17 Road to Recovery call with me using the link below

Invitation to Change Learning/Support Group Use the link below to find out about the group Heather is hosting.

Guide about enabling – If you’ve ever worried about enabling, this guide is for you!

Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/heather-ross9/message


This transcript has not been formatted or edited.


Today’s guest is Mike Brown. He is the president and founder of the Never Use Alone Hotline. He’s a former IV drug user who began improving his health and wellness in February of 2017. Later that same year, Mike began his journey as a recovery advocate, helping people across the country to connect with treatment resources. It didn’t take long to see behind the curtain


that hides the dark, dangerous, and often deadly world of the treatment industry to decide that he didn’t want anything to do with that. It was then that Mike moved into more of a harm reduction role. In August of 2019, the idea for Never Use Alone or NUA came to Mike after seeing a member of a support group he helps to run post his number and offer to act as a spotter for anyone who was using while they were alone.


Within a week, NUA was up and running. NUA is a peer-led nonprofit designed with harm reduction and overdose prevention in mind. Their staff and volunteers have lived experience with substance use and have been impacted by the drug overdose crisis. Whether helping with personal use or our loved ones, they understand that callers are going through and will support and love them.


There’s no shaming, no judgment, no preaching, just love. They meet people where they are on the other end of the line, one human connection at a time. So Mike, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. So let’s start with what happens when somebody calls NUA. Can you just walk us through the service that’s provided? Sure, sure.


When they call, they’ll hear a recording basically telling them that, you know, while we’ll do everything we can to get help to them in time, we can’t guarantee their safety. They’ll hear that little recording and basically disclaimer and says, continuing by continuing this call, you acknowledge, you know, whatever. But then they’re connected to an operator and the operators are people who lived experience. They’ve all been there. But


Anyway, like the operator, the operator will ask for their first name. Now it can be a nickname, a fake name, whatever. We don’t, that’s not important really. There would be asked for their location down to what room they’re in. Do, are the doors unlocked or is there, do you have Narcan available? Is it, if so, put it on the table right there with you. If they’re in, in a car, in a parking lot, we get a lot of those calls.


We asked for identifying landmarks, specific. And we asked for the phone number they’re calling from, just in case we could disconnect it. After that, once we have that and verify that information, read back to them, we tell them go ahead and do their thing and let us know the second they’re done, whether it be taking a hit or injecting or however they’re doing it. Let us know the second they’re done, then we just kind of sit there and talk for 10 to…


20, 30 minutes on average, but a lot of our calls go a lot longer. But yeah, that’s, uh, that’s basics of what we ask for. Just enough information to get help to them. Yeah. And so you’re taking country or calls from all over the U S how do you know, like how to get ahold of local emergency services? In the beginning, we were just Googling for the local ambulance service. It was pretty hectic.


But now we helped an organization in Canada to start a Canadian national line. They go by Norse, N-O-R-S. It’s N-O-R-S.CA is their website, their Canadian line. But they gave us access to a system I believe is called Rapid 911. If our caller stops responding, we then call another toll free number.


An operator will ask if we need police, fire, or ambulance. We tell them ambulance. They ask for the location of the emergency. We’ll give them that address. And then they connect us then to the correct 911 dispatch center anywhere in the US or Canada. That’s pretty amazing. When I first saw this, it was after my daughter, pretty quickly after my daughter had passed away. I never knew a service like this existed. I wish that I had. I don’t know if she ever would have actually used it. But I was amazed.


that it was around and I hadn’t even heard about it. So I think it’s so important to get this information out to parents so that they can share it with their kids and just have an open conversation about safety. What do you think some barriers are to people calling the hotline? Not, a lot of people automatically think that it’s a police set up or something, but I think it’s


biggest barrier is trust. People will only call if they get the information from somebody they trust. So a lot of our, most of the harm reduction organizations in the country, MAT clinics, everywhere really is trying to get our info out there. But they just see a flyer on the wall, they might not call, but if…


some outreach guy, they trust, tells them and gives them a business card or whatever, then they may call. But that, it’s taken a long time to build that trust. But I think after three and a half, four years, something like that, it’s gone pretty well. We’ve now taken something in the neighborhood of 40,000 calls. Yeah, that’s amazing. So if a parent wants to share the hotline with their child, they


What are some good ways to share it in a way that might make them feel more comfortable talking about it or even trusting the call? Right. Yeah. That’s a good question. On our website, you can go and download like a business card or a flyer, or you can just print it out and leave it on their, their, you know, on their wallet or whatever, just somewhere that they’ll find it. Obviously, well, not all the time, but most of the time.


you parents, you’ll know when your kid’s using. Might not be something you discuss or any of that, but I think just leaving a business card or just something, some way of getting that number out there to them, just leaving it there for them. Don’t push it on them to just leave it there for once. Yeah, yeah. So you said sometimes when somebody calls in, you might be on the phone with them 30 minutes, so.


I feel like there must be some additional value being provided there beyond just making sure they’re safe. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Yeah, I kind of choked up thinking about that one. That is the alongside the life saving aspect that has that has been the biggest thing with NUA is people being able to call and talk and we had a guy, a guy not long ago, we talked for like two hours.


It was just real talk. You know, he didn’t have to worry about what he’s saying in a meeting. He didn’t have to worry about what he’s saying in front of his parents. He was just talking to another drug user. And at the end of the conversation, he said, you know, I wish my parents could hear this. This is the real stuff. But yeah, that is, it didn’t occur to me that that might be such an important thing about it when I started it.


Honestly, I didn’t even think it would work when I started it. So, but it’s worked very well. Outside of the life-saving aspect, the connection that we make with our callers is equally important. Yeah, when you said that about the life-saving aspect, I was thinking the connection is a life-saving aspect, that knowing there’s somebody there, that creating that hope and treating somebody with…


humanity and understanding. And I think a lot of times parents feel like that just listening to somebody isn’t doing enough, but it really is like such a gift to just listen to somebody with compassion and love and no judgment. Yeah. That’s the biggest thing. No judgment. If you need to call and tell us whatever, and there will be no judgment about drug use with us.


They can speak freely and it’s been, our operators too, not just the callers, but our operators, all of them have been there, done that. Some of them are in recovery, some are not. Abstinence is not a requirement for volunteering. I think that giving people a purpose, something to be proud of, will help them along their way. And if they decide they want to quit, great. If not, you’re still welcome as an operator with us.


But yeah, so I just chased a squirrel there, my ADD. That’s okay. So when somebody calls, do you guys try to get them to go to treatment or do they ever end up asking you for other support? Yes. Well, yes and no. No, we never push treatment on them. We will never mention it unless they ask about, you know, ask for resources.


If they ask for help, we will go to the end of the earth to get whatever help they feel they need. But until they ask for it, we won’t mention it. We don’t want to come off as being pushy. If we push, they may not call back a second time. We want to be there every time, not just the first time. So it’s important that there be no judgment, no preaching, no shaming, just love. Yeah, so true.


So what about, I know that there’s people that are gonna listen to this, that are feeling like this is enabling or that we’re doing something wrong, like we’re sending the message that it’s okay. What is your perspective on that? And what would you kind of, how can you help somebody understand what this is really about? Yeah, mankind has used drugs in one form or another since the beginning of time. That’s never gonna change.


Our society is basically a breeding ground for suffering these days. And people are looking for ways to self-medicate. The opioid prescribing thing that went on was just with that, it was a perfect storm. With the depression and anxiety on the rise and mental health care, basically non-existent, people are looking to find ways to self-medicate. All we can do is be there while they do it.


I get that a lot though, from parents that have been, they might have their only influence come from maybe abstinence program members. We get a lot of pushback from that community honestly. That’s our biggest source of pushback honestly is other people in recovery, which never understood that. Like they forget where they came from or something. But so, but yeah. So I just chased the squirrel again.


That’s okay. Now, and I think that enabling is presented as so black and white, and it’s just not. And like, in this case, you’re enabling health and wellness, right? You’re enabling somebody to live long enough to have the chance to recover eventually if they want to. And I don’t necessarily believe in enabling, the term enabling. For me to believe that enabling exists, I have to believe that there is a rock bottom.


And today with fentanyl, there is no rock bottom. That’s the grave. I’m not willing to accept that. So I don’t, if you want to call it enabling, if you want to call it, whatever, we’re going to be there for that kid, that, that man, that woman, whoever. We’re going to be there whether they’re using or not. Well, obviously they’re going to be using if they call us, but, but yeah, I, I don’t, we’re not enabling anything other than connection and that’s the biggest.


being, you know, recovery isn’t about sobriety. It’s about positive connection, quality of life. And that’s what we’re offering. Dead people don’t recover. Yeah. And not to mention that when people don’t feel connected and they don’t have hope, then that’s not going to help with recovery either. That’s not going to make somebody want to change. What do they have to move towards?


Right, right. And you know, all of our policies, our laws are based around disconnection. We take people’s kids from them. We take them away from their families and put them in jail for having something in their pocket. It’s all disconnected. We’d rather pay a foster family to take in somebody’s kid than put that money into helping that family. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s all based about disconnection.


Get them away from us. That’s the way it seems. Yeah. I don’t understand. Yeah, I don’t understand it either. The more I get into this, the more I understand how important connection is, the more frustrating it is to see the way, like, we’re so far behind in the way we handle things. I compare it to, like, when doctors used to smoke and when they were working on their patients, right? Like, someday.


we’re going to feel like the way that we handle, you know, helping people with addiction, just the same way that we look at that and how crazy it was that that’s what we did. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s moving in the right direction. I think just in the last few years, I’ve seen a big change in the attitude towards harm reduction. When I first started into it, it was like a, it’s still a bad word, you know, people would get mad.


I mentioned a syringe exchange, but it’s coming along. You know, now we had Biden said the words, harm reduction. That was the first time a president had said the words words. So that was pretty big. Just that right there. And, you know, a lot of the funding now they’re realizing that they’ve dumped millions, billions of dollars into programs that aren’t working. So we’ve got to try something different, something new. And


why not do something that we have evidence to support? It’s used all over the world, we have evidence. We’ve just got to do something different. I don’t think our government really is coming to save us at any time soon. So we’re saving ourselves. Yeah, absolutely. Like why keep doing something that isn’t working? Why not try something that has evidence to support it? That sounds so like, yeah, that totally makes sense, but we keep doing things that don’t work.


Well, we keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them because it’s the way we’ve always done them. Yeah. I do it any different. Yeah. Times are changing, though, for the better. And it’s coming. Canada’s well ahead of us. I hope to catch up to them someday. Yeah. So what about, can you share some success stories with us of what happened with the line? Yeah. Yeah, we had This American Life just did an episode about us. I don’t know.


few months ago, one of our operators took a call from a young girl that had just got out of treatment that day. So she had been abstinent for probably 28 days and she used and became unresponsive. So the operator contacted Rapid 911, got connected to a dispatch and wherever she was, Massachusetts. They sent an ambulance and now


A lot of our operators will have two phones. So they’ll have one phone that’s still active with the caller and the other phone they’re on with the dispatcher. So this operator is on the phone, still alive with the caller and she could hear the ambulance driver come in. Well, the ambulance driver that came in was another one of our operators. She, the operator, the ambulance driver saw the


the phone active, Jess was yelling into the phone, trying to get their attention. So he picked up the phone, just basically to tell them, hey, she’s okay, she’s gonna be all right. And it turned out it was, we know them. They were partners in this NUA thing. So now this other person is, I don’t wanna give her a name, but yeah, she’s alive and doing very well. Yeah, she’s a big advocate for us. But that was, you know, to have NUA being


The operator and the EMT was pretty amazing. Yeah, that had to have felt like a really like a full circle moment for all their hard work. Yeah, I mean, what are the odds of that happening? Yeah. So how is NUA funded? Like, do you get, do you need donations, volunteers? Like, what’s the best way to support this service? We go by, we, up until recently, we go by donations. And of course, we always will. But we…


It became a 501C3 not long ago, we will be applying for funding. But as of now, it’s all been out of pocket and donation based, which the cost involves in the, I think we cost us $70 a month or something for the phone line. All of our operators, everybody’s volunteer. We hope to change that soon, especially for our operators. They definitely deserve some sort of compensation. But


So it’s our costs are minimal right now. If we expand like I’d like to, and then there’ll be some need for extreme funding, but I know it doesn’t cost much. It’s probably the most effective, least cost of, the most cost effective option there is right now. 70 bucks a month and we have a 100% save rate.


What’s the best way to support NUA? Is it for people to apply to volunteer or like, is there a place to donate on the website? Yeah, we’re always needing volunteers. We currently don’t have any links for donation on the website. We’ll be working on that soon. We’re just doing a bunch of change with bank account stuff. So we’ve got to update on all that. But absolutely on the volunteers, we’re always needing new operators.


You know, it’s, and we’re about to try something different with that. We have a lot of, it’s hard. You know, these calls are hard. We get a lot of people that just can’t do it. You know, they want to do it, but after a few, it’s easy to burn out. So we’re going to try doing like a rotation thing and see if that helps. And then we have a couple operators on for a couple, few days, and then switch them out with another team that way. But yes, always needed volunteer operators.


I’m glad you brought that up, like just how hard it is for somebody to take one of those calls and the amount of what that person is giving by being there to take that call, like just to even have more gratitude for those volunteers in the service. Like really that, I mean, you’re, you’re literally saving people’s lives. It’s so amazing.


It takes a special type of person to even want to be an operator for anyway. And I am I can’t I am so fortunate to be able to connect with those kind of people that will do this because they want to save lives. I love the people I’ve come in contact with from this amazing people. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time today sharing this. And I will put the.


your website information in the show notes so that people can go there and check it out. All right, yeah. And if any of you mothers need any help, questions about harm reduction, how you can talk to your kid, we’re always happy to talk to you about that. You can call our number too. Just talk if you need to. That’s great. Thank you for offering that. Amen.