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2012-03-07

Chile: Sharp rise in calls to drug helpline

By Mónica Solís for Infosurhoy.com—07/03/2012

Highly specialized counselors, a 24/7 service and public awareness campaigns against drugs explain an increase in calls to the Fonodrogas Ayuda helpline.

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María Paz Jiménez (right), a clinical psychologist and counselor at  Fonodrogas Ayuda: “We have to keep training constantly, since there are  always new types of drug addictions, which we learn of frequently when  [people seeking help] call us.” (Mónica Solís for Infosurhoy.com)

María Paz Jiménez (right), a clinical psychologist and counselor at Fonodrogas Ayuda: “We have to keep training constantly, since there are always new types of drug addictions, which we learn of frequently when [people seeking help] call us.” (Mónica Solís for Infosurhoy.com)

SANTIAGO, Chile – Government officials were pleased to report the positive results of the Fonodrogas Ayuda helpline, the National Service for the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Drug and Alcohol Use (SENDA) service to inform, educate and provide treatment options to drug addicts.

The helpline received 9,354 calls in 2011 after 4,237 in 2010, according to Margarita Humphreys, head of SENDA’s Citizen Contact Division.

“On the one hand, [we have] the impact of the public awareness campaigns, and improvements in managing the program,” Humphreys said. “Another influence was that in October 2010, the service began a 24/7 schedule.”

This service was conceived in 2000, when the National Council on Narcotics Control (CONACE) – a precursor to SENDA – launched an anti-drugs campaign.

Six years later, the Fonodrogas registry was established, with a team offering guidance and information to those seeking help during office hours.

The registry was expanded in 2010, when two telephone numbers were set up to take calls from landlines (188 800 100 800) and mobile phones (800 22 1818) after office hours.

SENDA invests about US$500,000 annually in the program.

All the calls are free, anonymous and confidential, as more than 60% are made by family members or friends of drug users, according to SENDA.

Humphreys said the most frequent callers are women seeking help for their husbands, sons or brothers.

“Generally, the family suffers the most consequences [of drug addiction]. They contact us because a family member is using drugs or they suspect someone is using,” she said.

On weekends, most of the callers are drug addicts, usually males (78.2%) between the ages of 20 and 35 who are dependent on cocaine paste (39%) or alcohol (28.9%), Humphreys said.

All calls are documented so officials know the summary of the conversation and what advice callers received, including whether they were referred to a specialist or clinic or were asked to call again. The caller’s gender, city of residence and the type of drugs discussed are recorded by counselors, who forward the information to police if they detect the caller could become violent.

“The call ends only when both agree to end it,” Humphreys said.

The specialists

All the operators at Fonodrogas Ayuda are psychologists, who constantly update their training through SENDA.

María Paz Jiménez is a clinical psychologist who has been answering calls since 2003 and, after eight years, she is still learning.

“There are always new types of drug addictions, which we learn of frequently when those seeking help call us,” she said.

Since the calls are anonymous, there is no way to gauge whether callers are satisfied with the service. But that could change, as officials are looking into hiring an outside consulting agency to find out what callers think of the hotline, said Paz Garcés, head of SENDA’s Territorial Division.

SENDA also is extending its outreach program through its Bibliodrogas service.

Bibliodrogas, located in Santiago’s Documentation Center, is the most complete collection of materials dealing with substance abuse issues in the country. Officials are working to expand Bibliodrogas by establishing a branch in a municipal library or inside one of SENDA’s regional offices in the second semester of 2012, Garcés said.

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