WVU and First Choice Services have announced a new plan that allows the company to oversee the operation of Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline, while the university still has access to data for research.

    Three years ago, the WVU School of Medicine started the state’s Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline with funds that were part of a settlement between the state and Purdue Pharma. The funding stopped in June 2011 and now First Choice Services is taking over the line’s operations.

    “It’s actually a positive development,” said Keith Zullig, associate professor in the Public Health Sciences.

    In the service’s first three years, more than 12,000 people have been helped, Zullig said. WVU’s subcontract with First Choice Services is for $22,000. First Choice needs $300,000 in annual funding to maintain operations. The company says it will seek funding from private sources and the Legislature.

    People who call the line speak to an education counselor, Zullig said. From there, the process can go through several different steps. There can be referrals to treatment centers, appointments may be set up or family members can be brought into the process.

    There is also a self-reporting survey people can participate in. WVU will still be involved with the quitline’s research side and will use the information to publish studies about the prescription drug abuse, Zullig said.

    Running a quitline won’t be a new experience for First Choice Services, which handles the state’s Problem Gamblers Help Network.

    “We were pretty prime to take over the quitline,” said Steven Burton, chief executive officer of First Choice Services.

    Burton said the company will work on promoting the quitline to keep it in people’s minds.

    The line is also needed to help people. Burton said from 1999-’04, the state saw a 550 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths. Some of those can be linked to prescription drug abuse.

    “We know there is a problem out there,” he said.

    The call center is in Charleston and the educators are qualified and trained in addiction and recovery services, Burton said. The service has a network of treatment offices across the state.

    Burton said he expects the call volume to increase. He said staffing will increase as needed to meet demand much in the same way it did with the gamblers’ helpline.