indianapolis mobile crisis

Indianapolis’ Unconventional Way To Fight The Opioid Epidemic

The Mobile Crisis Assistance Team is a new way to fight the opioid epidemic.

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Dr. Dan O’Donnell speaks to a small group of men and women seated among rows of tables at Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s East District headquarters.

His delivery is matter-of-fact, maybe because the problem he’s talking about — the opioid epidemic — is no surprise to anyone in this room. They’ve seen the “pinpoint pupils,” the bodies that look dead.

Addiction and mental illness are burdening the criminal justice system. The situation is dire, said O’Donnell, medical director for IMPD, Indianapolis EMS and Indianapolis Fire Department. “We cannot use 2010 solutions to this problem.”

The people in the room represent the change.

Starting Monday, four Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams — each with one police officer, one paramedic and one licensed clinician — will begin responding to crisis calls across IMPD’s East District, potentially involving domestic, emotional or substance abuse.

The unit — the first of its kind in Indianapolis — is the result of a partnership between IMPD, IEMS and Eskenazi Health. The concept, considered a pilot project, emerged last December as part of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s calls for criminal justice reform.

The agencies hope to reduce the number of people taken to an emergency room or jail — which are both costly — and to divert people away from the criminal justice system.

“We’re trying to build a new framework,” said Sgt. Catherine Cummings, who supervises the four police officers assigned to the unit.

“That’s always the challenge — to trail-blaze.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Addiction to heroin and other opioids has swept through the state, showing no signs of slowing down.

And one-third of the inmates in Marion County’s jails have a mental illness, according to a 2016 city report, at a cost of $7.7 million each year for extra security and care.

Members of the new unit interviewed by IndyStar said they recognize the challenges ahead.

They feel a duty to show the community how important this work is; to show Indianapolis leadership that this project will pay off.

More than that, though, they want to provide compassion to those who are vulnerable or misunderstood, and connect them with services they need — whether that’s a medication, a shelter or a conversation.

“We’re not just diverting arrests to divert arrests,” said Melissa Lemrick, an officer assigned to the unit. “We’re trying to get them help.”


indianapolis mobile crisis
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