Never Use Alone (NUA), a safe-use hotline that helps to prevent overdose deaths, is a service that drug users can call while using alone. If they become unresponsive during the call, the person on the other end of the line calls for help. In this intimate piece written by Aymann Ismail and reported by Mary Harris (for her This American Life episode), we follow operator Jessica Blanchard—who is also NUA’s education director—as she answers and navigates some of these calls from her home in Southwest Georgia. A former nurse and also a mother to an addict, Blanchard is nonjudgmental, empathetic, and quite literally an angel, giving the person on the other side of each call another chance at life.

In that instant, Blanchard unlearned everything she had been taught in nursing school about drug addiction. “We’re taught drugs are bad, ‘Just Say No,’ deputy dog, D.A.R.E. That’s the kind of stuff we were taught. That’s not realistic,” she said. “We were taught, ‘Well, you did it to yourself.’ That was the mantra. For some reason, that didn’t feel right to me. I was often deemed a soft, bleeding-heart pushover. I thought I was just being nice.”

After that, Blanchard became involved in harm reduction. “I didn’t want her to die. This whole thing—every fucking thing I do is about her not dying. Then about her and her homie not dying. Now it’s about the entire town,” she said.

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.