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New Helpline Reduces Stress Related Alcohol and Drug Use During Coronavirus

Media Contact:
Cheryl Wittke, Executive Director
Safe Communities
(608) 256-6713



Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coach Helpline: (608) 228-1278
if incarcerated, call:  888-811-3689 x 1


A new 24/7 helpline is available for Dane County residents thinking about using alcohol and/or other substances or struggling with substance use issues during the coronavirus epidemic. For help, call (608) 228-1278. Calls are free. No insurance is needed.

This service, sponsored by the nonprofit Safe Communities, is for previous alcohol and/or other substance users, those now in treatment or those tempted to start, and those concerned about a loved one. Callers talk confidentially with Recovery Coaches who are not professional therapists but in long-term recovery from their own alcohol or other substance use and have training in how to help others as advocates, peers and confidantes.

“This is a very stressful time for everyone. People are worried about social isolation, getting sick themselves or losing their jobs and income.’ said Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program. “They can become vulnerable to alcohol or other substance use to feel better.”

“This is especially true for those who are working to be in recovery or are already in long-term recovery. Relapse rates increase with stress brought on by loss of income, social isolation and anxiety. They may face additional treatment barriers due to coronavirus-related closures of treatment programs and an overwhelmed health care system.”

People living with substance use disorder are overrepresented in the hospitality business, including restaurants. “Hospitality, travel and leisure employees make up 11% of the entire American work force with over 20,000 working in Dane County alone,” said Jason Illstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc. “The lives of many hospitality employees turned upside down with the onset of COVID-19. Many are furloughed, working on reduced hours or, worse yet, terminated. Programs like Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program will provide instant help to those most in need during a time when any helping hand could save a life.”

Although talking to a recovery coach won’t change the circumstances, coaching is a proven strategy to prevent return to use of substances.
Coaches represent all ages and include African Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ. Coaches answer calls themselves and may refer callers to a different coach if someone better fits their experience and concerns.

Safe Communities Executive Director Cheryl Wittke encourages families and friends of persons in recovery to be especially attentive to warning signs that the person might be at risk of return to use. Some of the signs are listed at

The Recovery Coach 24-7 Helpline is an expansion of other highly impactful recovery coaching programs operating in Dane County. These include:

  • ED 2 Recovery: with an 88% referral to treatment rate among people who sign-on with a recovery coach after treatment for an overdose in the emergency room
  • Jail 2 Recovery: which has served nearly 300 people at high risk of overdose after a period of abstinence during incarceration
  • Pregnancy 2 Recovery: which matches pregnant women with coaches who used during pregnancy and are now in recovery
  • Family Coaches: parents who’ve gone through the struggle of navigating a child’s addiction and are now available to provide guidance to parents facing the same challenges.

Funding from Dane County and UW Health/UPH-Meriter/Quartz are making this helpline possible.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi stated: “Dane County is proud to be the first county in the state to support recovery coaching – a proven strategy to help people with addiction find recovery. Now as we work together to contain the coronavirus, we can’t lose sight of how our opioid overdose epidemic continues to threaten lives, particularly as these two epidemics converge. Through our sponsorship of Safe Communities’ 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline, Dane County is extending our commitment to support people through this crisis.”

“UW Health Is pleased to support Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline. This critical resource will help our patients and any community member struggling with addiction find help during these stressful times”, said Beth Lonergan, Director of Behavioral Health for UW Health.
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin and SSM Health are also sponsoring the launch.

Safe Communities is a nonprofit coalition of over 350 organizations working together to save lives, prevent injury and make Dane County safer. Funding is provided by federal, local and foundation grants, project sponsors, memberships and individual donors. For more information and a listing of Sustaining Members, visit


Local recovery groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery) are also working to create virtual meetings to support people’s recovery.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, For Medical Emergency, Dial: 911
For community resources, call United Way: Dial 211.

Journey Mental Health Crisis Line: (608) 280-2600

National Suicide Prevention Line:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Veterans Press 1, En Español Oprima El 2

For people living with mental illness seeking peer support

Solstice House Warm Line: (608) 244-5077;

NAMI Dane County Peer Support: (608) 249-7188



Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program
and Safe Communities Recovery Coaches

Jason Ilstrup, Executive Director, Downtown Madison Inc

Steve Starkey, Executive Director, Outreach LGBT Community Center

Dr. Ruben Anthony, Executive Director, Urban League of Greater Madison



Dane County
UW Health/Quartz/UPH-Meriter
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin
SSM Health
Outreach LGBT Community Center
Urban League of Greater Madison
Downtown Madison Inc.
Destination Madison
Sustaining Members of Safe Communities (see for listing)


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getting involved

The partnerships built by Safe Communities have created a safer community, with more opportunities for education and awareness. We continue to envision a safer future for the people who live in Madison and Dane County, with instances of unnecessary deaths and serious injuries are infrequent, rather than a daily occurrence.


Treatment Key

Safe communities has complied a list of abbreviation definitions for finding the right treatment for you.

MAT: Medication for Addiction Treatment.
OP: Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends. individual and group therapy, these can include or not include MAT.
IOP: Intensive Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends individual and extended groups, 9-12 hours a week.
Residential: person lives at the facility for a period of at least 14 days, some last as many as 45 days.
PHP: Partial Hospitalization Program is a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week.
DBT: Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that integrates mindfulness techniques.