Hospital offers counseling to overdose survivors

Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. - Tess Bradley has been clean from heroin for nine years. Now, she works to help others get clean too.

"Addicts oftentimes relate to other addicts who have gotten clean," said Bradley, a drug and alcohol educator at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

Bradley refers patients who are treated for overdoses or complications from drug and alcohol use to treatment centers in the region, at no cost.

"Oftentimes they'll go out and overdose again. They're extremely vulnerable to overdosing again. That's why we like to catch them when they come in. With that vulnerability, they're also vulnerable to treatment," Bradley said.

The "warm handoff" referral program started in January with help from the Cambria County Drug Coalition and the Hearts Against Heroin campaign.

Over 30 overdose patients come into the hospital each month, but only about a third actually seek treatment.

Bradley said one of the biggest challenges is getting patients to agree to get treatment, especially those who only go to the emergency room.

"A lot of people have tried and tried and failed. I think that makes it difficult to try again," said Bradley. 

Paramedics said getting overdose survivors into the emergency room in the first place is another issue with life-threatening consequences. 

"The scary part of it is the Narcan can wear off. They could have a relapse and maybe nobody would be around this time. We want to make sure they go to the hospital to get medically cleared and then they can get help from that point," said Ira Hart, the manager of West End Ambulance.

Bradley said with the growing drug epidemic, available space at treatment centers is limited, but she's never had to turn anyone away. Despite the obstacles to recovery, Bradley wants addicts to know there is help out there.

"I would say, 'What do you have to lose right now? Other than your life, what else do you have to lose at this point?' Most people I see have hit rock bottom, so that's basically what I ask them, 'What's it's going to hurt? You can give it a try. If you don't like it you can always go back out, but maybe this will be the time you did get clean,'" Bradley said.

If you would like to learn about detox/inpatient treatment centers available through Conemaugh Health System, visit their website.

For more information on Hearts Against Heroin and other resources available to addicts, you can check out a list on Conemaugh's website.

For immediate assistance, you can call 2-1-1 or contact the Alliance Medical Services 24-hour overdose hotline: (814) 269-4700.


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