Emergency Info

Guidelines on when to call the Emergency Services 999 for unwell recreational drug users

Call 999 if ANY one of the following is present:

Unconsciousness – if the patient does not respond to vocal commands, requires painful stimulus (e.g. pressure across the fingernails) to respond or does not respond at all.

Significant agitation (e.g. pacing around the room) or aggression not settling within 15 minutes.

Seizures (e.g. a convulsion similar to an epileptic fit)

Breathing difficulties such as fast breathing rate which does not settle within 15 minutes.

Heart rate over 140 beats per minute not settling within 5 minutes.

Temperature over 38.5 not settling after about 5 minutes of rest, or if very flushed and feels very hot if no thermometer is available.

Blood pressure – Systolic (“upper pressure”) over 180mmHg, or Diastolic (“lower pressure”) over 110mmHg on two repeated blood pressure measurements.

Other concerns – if there are any other concerns (e.g. severe headache, chest pain).


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Drug and alcohol use through lockdown

The Global Drug Survey has just published the final report on its Special Edition on COVID-19 which was developed as part of a global effort to better understand the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives with a specific focus on the use of alcohol and other drugs, mental health and relationships. The survey ran for 7 weeks in (May – June 2020) and was available in 10 languages: Danish, Dutch,
English, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. The survey received 59,969 valid responses; 2,136 from the UK. GDS surveys are very different from other drugs research such as the Crime Survey for England and Wales because they are typically completed by regular, mainly recreational, drug users, most of them young and many of them well-educated. We highlight the main findings below.

Changes in alcohol use

  • 43% of the sample reported an increase in the frequency of drinking (25% a decrease) while 36% of the sample reported an increase in the amount of alcohol they drank on a typical day (22% a decrease) compared to before COVID-19.
  • 30% reported starting drinking earlier in the day compared to before COVID-19 and 42% wanted to drink less in the next 30 days.
  • Drinking alone at home while on video/audio calls, chats or ‘watch parties’ was more commonly reported during COVID-19 (40%) compared to pre-COVID-19 (16%).
  • Of 75% who were drinking alone at the time of the survey, 41% reported that they were drinking alone more often compared to before COVID-19.
  • 41% of people with a mental health or neuro-developmental condition reported they were drinking more due to increased stress about COVID-19 compared to 21% of people without mental health or neuro-developmental conditions.
  • Those who increased drinking and reported a mental health or neuro-developmental condition were at least twice as likely to report feeling (more) depressed (36% vs. 13%) and/or lonely (30% vs. 15%).

Changes in the use of other drugs

  • The drug types reportedly used in the past 30 days by this sample were THC containing cannabis products (28%), followed by CBD only cannabis products (9%), then cocaine (7%), MDMA (6%), prescription benzodiazepines (5%), amphetamine (4%), prescription opioids and LSD each at 3%.
  • 39% of respondents who used cannabis in the past year reported increased use of THC containing cannabis products compared to before COVID-19 with the  biggest increases reported by respondents in Australia (49%) and the USA (46%).
  • For other drugs, 37% reported having increased their use of prescription
    benzodiazepines, 26% CBD only cannabis products, 23% psilocybin, and 21% for cocaine, LSD and ketamine.
  • The use of drugs that are commonly used in party settings saw the biggest decreases. More than one third of respondents who reported use of MDMA (41%), cocaine (38%), amphetamine (35%) and ketamine (34%) indicated that they used less frequently when compared to before COVID-19.

Drug markets

  • While decreased availability of illegal drugs compared to before COVID-19 was reported by 56%, what is striking is that perceptions of purity and the range of drugs remained largely unchanged reflecting the resilience of the illicit drug trade and existing supplies being able to meet demand through a period of less international trade and travel.
  • Over one third (36%) of respondents who used illegal/non-prescribed drugs reported that the price of illegal drugs in their country increased compared to before COVID-19.
  • While over half (52%) reported that their last drug purchase was not impacted by the pandemic, some respondents reported signs of market scarcity, including paying a higher price (14%), taking longer to get the drugs than usual (10%), more difficulty finding a supplier (8%) and more difficulty finding their drug of choice (5%).
  • At the last purchase between March and June 2020, 16% reported buying larger quantities compared with before COVID-19. Notably, stockpiling was reported as a reason for increased drug use, particularly for THC-containing cannabis (20%).


It will be interesting to see whether these changes in patterns of consumption are maintained, particularly if the country faces another extended period of lockdown as many fear. Overall, readers will have noticed that many, but far from all, regular users of cocaine and Ecstasy reduced their consumption, presumably because they would normally take these substances in a social situation on a night out. We must wait and see whether people who have been denied this part of their lifestyle return to using drugs on a night out if and when the night-time economy fully re-opens.


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