Jeremy Smith Free help for addiction treatment and prevention

by Sam Sentelle

Jeremy Smith

Free help for addiction treatment and prevention

Jeremy Smith

May 1, 2018

One morning in August 2016, a man arrived to gamble all day at a local casino. When his money was gone in the afternoon, he left a $25 chip to hold his place at a blackjack table. He robbed a bank then returned to gamble some more with a new stash.

Gambling is an addiction, Jeremy Smith told Putnam Rotary today. “People don’t realize how strong it can be,” he said.

Smith is Outreach Coordinator for First Choice Services, a program supported through the WV Department of Health & Human Resources.

First Choice started in 2000 when the state legalized gambling and soon expanded into a confidential counseling source for substance abuse addiction and behavioral health.

“Gambling addiction has the highest rate of suicide,” Smith said. “Divorce is extremely high, and gambling addiction often coincides with other addictions such as substance abuse and alcohol.”

Less than a dozen people staffed the program a few years ago. Now there are sixty workers on the job. Help is readily available every day and at all hours.

Many of the counselors have been through recovery themselves. “We want to remove barriers and get help for callers as soon as possible,” Smith said.

“When somebody calls and they’re dealing with an addiction, their first thought may be, ‘You don’t know what I’m going through.’

“But often our folks do know,” Smith explained. “They’ve been there themselves. They tell them that. And it instantly builds a rapport with the caller and makes it a little bit easier.”

Since September 2015, First Choice workers have answered over 22,000 calls for help and advice.

Local counselors are available across the state. “We don’t give them a couple of phone numbers and then hang up the call. We keep them on the line with us and do three-way calls to a facility and make sure it’s a good fit before we drop off the line.

“Then we do follow-ups in two days, a week, a month. We do what we can to make it easier.”

First Choice has compiled a list of some 1,000 service providers in the state — detox facilities, out-patient treatment, group therapy, faith-based therapy.

“We can get almost anyone into a program in 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “We help them with paperwork. We help with transportation.

“We thought about half of our callers would be looking for counselors for behavioral health issues, and half would want help for substance abuse.

“The majority of calls used to be for addiction to prescription pills, but much has been done at the state level to stamp out pill abuse.

“Unfortunately, right now people are reaching for the heroin. And it’s laced with such strong chemicals that we’re having more overdoses than we’ve ever seen.

“We can’t force them into treatment, but once they are ready, we want them to call us first because it streamlines the process and makes it easier for them to get into a facility.

“It’s got to be preventive. We’ve got to start working with a new generation, talking in the classrooms about prevention.”

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith speaking on Free help for addiction treatment, prevention

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Sam Sentelle


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