Drugs: what you need to know

Taking drugs comes with many health risks, from dependency to overdose and infections.

If you’re concerned about your drugs use and want to reduce the risks or have a family member or friend using drugs it’s important to know more about the substances you’re taking and how to get support.

Be cautious

If you are using drugs alone it is important to be extra cautious around amount, mixing substances and frequent dosing.

Start low and go slow - start with a small amount/test dose and wait for at least 2 hours before taking any more as the drugs may not have taken full effect

If substances don’t take effect as quickly as you’d expect, don’t assume they are poor quality, they may contain another substance that takes longer to kick in.

Taking opioids like heroin and methadone and depressants like benzodiazepines and alcohol is very risky.

They slow down your breathing and heart rate and if you take more of these than you’re used to, the risk of overdose is higher.

Dealing with an overdose

There’s a greater risk of overdose if you use drugs following a break, reduce your use or use low purity drugs followed by higher purity drugs.

Always ensure you have a Naloxone kit to hand if you use opioid drugs. Naloxone can be accessed through your local drug service or pharmacy. Remember to check ahead they have naloxone in stock.

It’s a medicine which can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Even if it doesn’t help, not help, it will do no harm.

Naloxone is very easy to administer. You can learn more about administering naloxone in a free e-learning module or this Scottish Drugs Forum booklet (PDF, 540KB).

Check our map of injecting equipment provider services still operating. Many also dispense naloxone.

Don’t mix your drugs

Mixing depressant and opioid drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (such as valium) and heroin carry an especially high risk of overdose.

Learn more about opioid overdose and how to respond and get information on stimulant overdoses.

Overdose symptoms

Symptoms will vary with different drugs but some key signs and symptoms where it is important to phone 999 are:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures or fitting
  • Rapid or low/undetectable heart rate
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing (snoring or rasping)
  • Blue/ pale tingeing of knees, hands and lips
  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Hyperthermia (overheating)

Helping someone who may have overdosed

When someone overdoses it is important to get them help as soon as possible.

Phone 999 right away. Ambulance paramedics have the tools to respond safely and if someone’s experiencing a suspected opioid-related overdose, administering naloxone is a priority.

See GOV.UK for more useful guidance for first responders.

Where personal protective equipment (PPE) isn’t available and you think there may be a risk of infection, the Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) advises helpers to place a cloth or towel over the victim’s mouth and nose.

Until the ambulance or advanced care team arrives, attempt compression only CPR and early defibrillation.