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-related deaths

Millions of people go out every week, many of them consuming a range of drugs. Recreational drug fatalities are comparatively rare, but all involve the tragic death of mainly young people and the majority are avoidable. Following the advice on this site will help reduce the number of further such tragedies.

The official figures1 where Ecstasy or MDMA was mentioned on the death certificate by the underlying cause of death in England and Wales show that there were an average of 54 deaths per year for the last five years for which data were available.

There were also 432 deaths related to cocaine in 20171, compared with 371 deaths in 2016 and just 144 in 2010. However, it must be remembered that the data does not separate out deaths related to cocaine powder use from those related to crack use. Nevertheless, such a big increase clearly shows that the number of people dying from “recreational” cocaine use, much of which is consumed in pubs and clubs, has risen sharply in recent years.


Drug-related deaths at music festivals often receive widespread media attention and the official statistics do not record the exact location where the fatal event occurred. Nonetheless, every year people lose their lives through taking drugs at music festivals, often in ways that could have been prevented. For example, at least two teenagers died from drug-related causes while attending music festivals over the August Bank Holiday weekend in 2019.

Health risks

Safer Nightlife does not provide detailed information on the health risks of different substances since the most important information for those involved in running pubs, clubs and festivals is to take the prompt action detailed in the “What to do in an emergency section”

However, there is still some value in understanding the main risks associated with the substances most commonly used by people going for a night out. The table below lists substances in the order of their popularity amongst pub and club goers.

It should be remembered that many people take a combination of substances and alcohol and that the effects of these combinations can be unpredictable. Illegal drugs can also interact badly with prescribed medicines or those bought at a high street pharmacy. The same substance can have a different effect on different people, depending on their gender, weight, individual tolerance and emotional state.

See also a list of common drugs with their effects.


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