September 8, 2023

The Call

One call to a very unusual hotline, and everything that followed.

A photo of a woman siting on her couch holding a cell phone

Jessie, operator for the Never Use Alone hotline.

Aymann Ismail / Slate

Note: The internet version of this episode contains un-beeped curse words. BEEPED VERSION.



Ira talks about a priest who set up what may have been the first hotline in the United States. It was just him, answering a phone, trying to help strangers who called. (2 minutes)

Act One


The Never Use Alone hotline was set up so that drug users can call if they are say, using heroin by themselves. Someone will stay on the line with them in case they overdose. We hear the recording of one call, from a woman named Kimber. (13 minutes)

Mary Harris is the host and managing editor of Slate's daily news podcast, What Next. They were our collaborators on this story, you can read their print version and see more photos by Aymann Ismail.

Act Two


An EMT learns he was connected to the call, in more ways than he realized. (16 minutes)

Act Three


Jessie, who took the call, explains how she discovered the hotline. She keeps in touch with Kimber. Until one day, Kimber disappears. (16 minutes)