Safe Communities: Announces 24-7 recovery coach helpline

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