Dragging Us Down
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An ambulance from West End Ambulance Service sped toward the Giant Eagle on Fairfield Avenue. Nobody had a heart attack. There would been no accident. But, a woman needed help. Fast. "It's a Delta overdose." said Ashely Pardus a paramedic for West End Ambulance Services. "She's found in the breakroom. I don't know if she's responsive." Pardus strained to listen to dispatchers over her radio. "We're gonna find out." A delta overdose, thats a familiar call. Someone took too much heroin and is now effectively, dead in a grocery store bathroom. "Patient is unconscious but breathing." That's good news. There's still time. The ambulance screamed into the back lot of the Giant Eagle. Pardus and an EMT jumped out. "Up the stairs." Pardus, supplies in tow, bounded up the stairs to where a flurry of activity had already started. A woman was on the ground, slumped against a wall. She was turning blue. They all turn blue pretty quickly, Pardus would say later. The woman's only hope now is the lifesaving drug Nalaxone, branded Narcan, which can reverse the deadly effects of a heroin overdose if administered on time. If you blinked you would've missed it. Pardus readied a nasal spray of Narcan, and then, just like that, the woman was awake again. "Hi, honey, Can you wake up for us?" Pardus would spend the better part of a half hour trying to convince the woman to go to the hospital. "It would be in your best interest to go and sit at the hospital, They just hold you for two hours and then you're free." She would repeat that over and over again. But, that day, like many times she tries to convince overdose victims to go to the hospital, it wouldn't work. Ira Hart serves as the manager of the West End Ambulance Service located at 175 Garfield Street. He's in charge of keeping the place funded. On top of the emergency calls, the ambulance service have started chauffeuring people from home to hospital, something they get paid for in advance. If they didn't do that. "I don't think we would have the doors open except for one ambulance. if we were lucky." Hart said it costs an average of $600 for every call, but Medicare and Medicaid only give them about $200 per call. Then there's the people who don't have insurance, or just won't pay. Usually, the ambulance company will never see that money, essentially working for free. "We've risked our life to save your life and there's no reimbursement to keep the doors open so we're there for the next person." That's especially tough on overdose calls. Last year West End Ambulance Service responded to 140 overdose calls. Hart said in those calls, they ended up losing about $150,000. But it doesn't just stretch their finances. It stretches their time, too. "There has been days where, just for normal calls alone, we're drained, the other stations are drained, So they have to come a greater distance to cover a call that's in our area. Luckily we didn't drop any calls which means we didn't miss anybody who needed us. but they potential is there." As for Pardus, who has to go on repeated overdose calls, the fight is simply overwhelming. "Their numbers keep growing and ours keep shrinking. and you can't unfortunately, save them all and that's the worst part about it." If you are someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are people waiting to help. You can call 1-800-662-4357 to reach the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol's Get Help Now program.