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 under lockdown

We don’t yet have much reliable research on what has happened to peoples’ patterns of drug and alcohol use during lockdown. A recent report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse published last month did find that many drugs are now more expensive, can be in short supply and when available are often of lesser purity. The report also found continued violence among suppliers and distributors and that organised crime groups remained active and “resilient”, by adapting transportation models, trafficking routes and methods of hiding drugs, even during the pandemic. The EMCDDA also reported that there had been an upsurge in people ordering drugs online via the darknet.

However, although we know there are large-scale surveys been undertaken by the likes of Release and Global Drug Survey, these findings have not yet been published.

Nevertheless, some trends do seem to be emerging.

Alcohol under lockdown

To date, there has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, more information emerging on peoples’ alcohol use than their use of illegal drugs. Alcohol Change UK commissioned research to find out whether people’s drinking habits have, in fact, changed during lockdown. The results were interesting. It’s clear that people in the UK are drinking differently as a result of coronavirus and the lockdown, but we aren’t all responding in the same way. The research found that changes in drinking habits are happening in two main directions.

While much media coverage has focused on people’s drinking increasing, more than one in three of the 1,555 drinkers surveyed said that they have either stopped drinking or reduced how often they drink, since the lockdown. Six per cent have stopped drinking entirely.

However, some people are drinking more often. Around one in five drinkers (21%) reported  that they have been drinking more frequently since the lockdown. This suggests that around 8.6 million UK adults are drinking more frequently under lockdown.

While almost half of drinkers said they are drinking about the same amount on a typical drinking day, 15% said they have been drinking more per session since lockdown. Although not everyone who drinks more often also drinks more per session, the survey shows a high level of consistency; most people who are drinking more often are also drinking more on a typical drinking day, and vice versa.

It is the people who were already drinking the least often who have cut down in the greatest number. Nearly half (47%) of people who drank once a week or less have cut down or stopped drinking, compared to just over a quarter (27%) of people who drank two to six times a week, and just one in five (17%) daily drinkers. Worryingly, nearly one in five (18%) daily drinkers have further increased the amount they drink since lockdown.

Drug use under lockdown

We have much less reliable information about patterns of drug use under lockdown. A survey of 327 drug users by the Scottish drug charity Crew  found that more than half its respondents (57%) were taking drugs more often, while approximately a fifth (19%) had reduced their consumption. Unsurprisingly, changes in the type of drugs people were taking is largely driven by the changing environment – drugs like MDMA were not being taken as often due to clubs and pubs being closed, while some people were increasing their cannabis (and alcohol) consumption when alone in the house. Other drivers behind changes in behaviour included not being around people who they would usually take drugs with, or the complete opposite – being around people who didn’t know that they would normally take drugs. This last situation obviously applies to lots of young adults now locked down in their family home with their parents.

There are stories of some people taking drugs “together” online via Zoom, House Party and the other video calling platforms with which we are now so familiar. But it’s hard to know how common this is.

Many experts have speculated that it’s likely that a considerable number of recreational drug users will have significantly reduced or even stopped completely taking drugs during lockdown.

Looking to the future

Like everything else in 2020, it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen after lockdown is lifted, especially if and when we finally get to the point that the night-time economy is fully reopened.

It may be that lots of people who have had an enforced break from illegal drug use may be not so keen to continue using at their previous levels, especially if they have either appreciated the extra income they now have or are struggling for money because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

However, it is equally easy to imagine a future where lots of people are desperate to get back to having a big night out. For those people for whom taking drugs was an integral part of that experience, there will be real concerns that their tolerance will have dropped substantially and that they will be at risk of unintended overdoses.

And, of course, the picture may be complicated more if there are a series of peaks in the virus with lockdown restrictions being lifted and reinstated over the coming months.

Safer Nightlife will keep you up to date with the latest research as it’s published.


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