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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The rise of the music festival

While more than a quarter of pubs and clubs have closed during the last decade, the number of musical festivals, many of whose participants see drug-taking as integral to the occasion, has risen rapidly, reportedly exceeding 1,000 in 2016 and still growing1Bernadette McNulty (2017) Has the UK’s festival scene reached saturation point? Financial Times..

The result is a shift in the festival ecosystem, with a marked rise in the number of city-based and one-day events and a decline in traditional camping weekends.

Whereas, until recently, people living in many parts of England and Wales would have had to plan ahead and travel large distances to attend a festival playing the types of music they liked, now they are spoilt for choice and can often make last-minute decisions based on the latest headlining acts and the weather forecast.


This provides additional challenges for those planning and regulating festivals who need to be prepared for a last-minute drop or surge in the number of people attending. This has particular consequences when planning to manage drug-related harms; ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of security and welfare/medical staff to meet everyone’s needs on the day or weekend (and sufficient revenue to pay them).

Outdoor festival planners also have to factor in the impact of the weather on their events. There were problems at an outer London Festival in 2019 when a new digital admissions system failed and thousands of festival goers, many of whom had been preloading on alcohol and drugs, were left outside without protection from a very hot sun and started fainting and suffering other adverse effects from dehydration.


1 Bernadette McNulty (2017) Has the UK’s festival scene reached saturation point? Financial Times.


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