WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) — One hundred and sixty.

That’s the number of overdoses Wheeling alone has seen so far in 2022.

And with each one of those calls, police face a victim in an unpredictable state of mind.

That’s why a new team at Northwood Health System will be heading out alongside officers—to help with communication on both sides.

It’s part of the Crisis Intervention and Overdose Response Program, a new strategy in the making since February.

The collaboration hopes to face the deeper issues of substance abuse by bringing mental health expertise into the mix—both through officer training and on-scene assistance.

We hope to reduce calls for service, we hope to reduce criminal activity and nuiscance-type calls, and most importantly we hope that our citizens who need help will get help.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police

The five members of the Northwood team will be there at both overdose and mental health crisis cases.

When an overdose patient is taken to the hospital, a Northwood mobile responder will take over from police to assess their situation.

Chief Schwertfeger explains that even petty crimes are often committed by those suffering from mental illness.

Other times someone may be in an acute crisis, hallucinating, catatonic, whatever the case may be.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police

That kind of scene is difficult for officers to handle without a specific understanding of their condition.

For that reason Northwood will work with officers who have already received crisis intervention training to bring their knowledge to the rest of the force.

They hope recidivism rates will decline if officers can bring repeat suspects the help they need—some of which, Schwertfeger says, would be better served by health care rather than a jail sentence.

Just as a longtime police professional, I would love to have been able to have someone with mental health training, and professionally trained individual come and help me.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Wheeling Police

As for what the future holds—
Northwood’s new team hopes to be able to expand beyond Ohio County.

But for now they’re ready to defuse even the worst crisis in Wheeling 24 hours a day.