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 latest drug trends

bag of cocaine

Last week (9 December 20220), the Office for National Statistics published its annual overview of the extent and trends of illicit drug use. The data are taken from the Crime Survey for England and Wales and are for the year ending March 2020. The data were gathered before the pandemic and do not therefore reflect the changes in drug-taking behaviour we have seen this year.

Main points

There was no change in overall drug use and Class A drug use in the last year:

  • An estimated 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years had taken a drug in the last year (9.4%; approximately 3.2 million people); this is the same as the year ending March 2019 but an increase from 8.6% in the year ending March 2010.
  • Around one in five adults aged 16 to 24 years had taken a drug in the last year (21%; approximately 1.3 million people); this was similar to the previous year (20.3%).
  • An estimated 1% of 60- to 74-year-olds had taken a drug in the last year; therefore, the prevalence of last year drug use in those aged 16 to 74 years (7.6%) was lower than for those aged 16 to 59 years (9.4%).
  • 3.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 years had taken a Class A drug in the last year (approximately 1.1 million people); this was similar to the previous year (3.7%).
  • 7.4% of adults aged 16 to 24 years had taken a Class A drug in the last year (approximately 467,000 people); this was not significantly different from the previous year (8.7%).
  • 2.1% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 4.3% of adults aged 16 to 24 years were classed as “frequent” drug users (had taken a drug more than once a month in the last year); these are similar to the previous year’s estimates.

More detail

There were no changes in last-year drug use for the majority of individual drug types including cannabis, ecstasy, powder cocaine, new psychoactive substances and nitrous oxide. However, there were falls in the use of two low volume drug types and the proportion of frequent powder cocaine users:

  • Cannabis continues to be the most common drug used in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 years and 16 to 24 years, 7.8% and 18.7% respectively; this is much larger than the second most prevalent drugs used in the last year, powder cocaine use for 16- to 59-year-olds (2.6%) and nitrous oxide use among 16- to 24-year-olds (8.7%).
  • Amphetamine use in the last year in adults aged 16 to 59 years fell by 42% compared with the previous year (to 109,000 people), continuing the long-term decline since the year ending December 1995.
  • Anabolic steroid use among 16- to 59-year-olds in the last year also fell compared with the previous year from approximately 62,000 to 31,000 people, following a period over the last decade where reported use was relatively flat.
  • Although there was no change in last-year powder cocaine use among adults aged 16 to 59 years compared with the year ending March 2019, the proportion of frequent users fell from 14.4% in year ending March 2019 to 8.7% in year ending March 2020.


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