City creates interagency response units to help with opioid epidemic

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The city of Indianapolis has created four interagency teams to reduce the number of people taken to the emergency room or jail as the state struggles to keep up with the opioid epidemic.

The Mobile Crisis Assessment Teams will respond to crisis calls involving domestic, emotional or substance abuse, The Indianapolis Star reported .

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services and Eskenazi Health have partnered together to create the teams. Each team will have one police officer, one paramedic and one licensed clinician. The pilot project is a result of Mayor Joe Hogsett's call for criminal justice reform in December.

The goal is to connect people with the help they need, whether that's medication, a shelter or a conversation, said Melissa Lemrick, a police officer assigned to the unit.

"We're not just diverting arrests to divert arrests," she said. "We're trying to get them help."

Dr. Dan O'Donnell, medical director for the police department, IEMS and Indianapolis Fire Department Addiction, said mental illness cases are burdening the criminal justice system.

"We cannot use 2010 solutions to this problem," he said.

Police departments in Memphis and Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as Birmingham, Alabama, have introduced response teams that combine police and mental health services, said Risdon Slate, a Florida Southern College criminology professor.

He said it's important to have mental health professionals accompany police officers because officers aren't trained on how to respond to a mental health crisis.

"Unless they have a loved one or a friend with mental illness, then they don't really understand what mental illness is all about," Slate said. "They get taken in by the stigma surrounding mental illness."

Teams were trained from June 5 to July 19 to prepare for the many issues they'll handle.

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