City of Wheeling now sending counselors to overdose victims

WHEELING, W Va. (WTRF) - We all know we're in the middle of a drug crisis, but in 2018, shocking numbers hit home.

132 people in Wheeling overdosed and 14 of those were deaths.

Theses number left police searching for a missing link.

"The missing component was, we felt, that once we cleared our investigative work, there was really no support system for these individuals," said Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police.

What they found was the need for an Emergency Peer Specialist team or EPS.

Here's how it works:

"As soon as we contact them, they're rolling and on the way. They'll come to the hospital and meet the officer for the introduction. They'll even come to the scene, as long at it's safe, and an officer will make the introduction there," Schwertfeger said.

But what these peer specialists really do is create a connection with overdose victims and provide support toward recovery.

"Having someone to talk to that understands what you've been through, has maybe overdosed themselves, helps. Getting that connection and knowing that someone is going to actually be there for you and help you get to the other side is important," said Sharon Travis, CEO of the Serenity Hills Life Center.

Chief Schwertfeger told 7News this policy has been in the works for a few years, but it couldn't have become a reality without the help of the Serenity Hills Life Center.

Now, it's time to get to work.

"I'm really excited. They're professionals and I think this may make an impact. Shame on us if we didn't at least try," Schwertfeger said.

The policy officially went into effect on Friday, Frebruary 8.

So far, counselors have already been called on twice.

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