All types of substances can have powerful, adverse effects on health and behavior. Emergencies specifically related to drug or alcohol use usually result from people having too much or too little of the chemical agent in their system. Regardless of the emergency, there are some important steps one can take to keep a victim alive until professionals arrive at the scene.
The prevalence of substance-based emergencies
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) compiles a collection of important statistics each year related to drug and alcohol use, including their association with medical emergencies. Using estimates from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and its surveillance of emergency departments (ED) nationwide, the rate of drug-related emergency visits at hospitals has drastically increased, rising from 2.5 million in 2004 to 4.6 million in 2009. During the same stretch of time, nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals has increased by a staggering 98.4 percent. Due to this high frequency, the public must be more prepared to address this type of medical emergency when it strikes.
Identifying the type of emergency
The first real step of intervening in the case of an emergency is identifying what specific situation is taking place, whether it is an overdose, withdrawal or something else. According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, symptoms of a currently occurring overdose include:
- Staggering or unsteady gait
- Irregularly sized or nonreactive pupils
- Uncontrolled spasms or convulsions
- Delusional, hallucinatory or paranoid behavior
- Problems breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptomatic patterns that include more restless agitation, cramping, sweating, shaking or tremors, delusions, depression and nausea may indicate withdrawal, rather than overdose or poisoning. Although the features may overlap and range widely, both conditions can result in death if a person’s drug use is severe enough. As soon as someone can identify the circumstances as an emergency, it is essential to call 911 immediately.
The next major stage of addressing the emergency is applying first aid until professional services arrive. Critical steps include:
- Checking the victim’s breathing and pulse. If the individual is not breathing, perform CPR. If he or she is breathing but unconscious, be sure to place the person on his or her side to prevent choking and loosen any restrictive clothing. If conscious, reassure and keep the person calm as well
- Evaluating for signs of bodily shock. If the person is experiencing shock symptoms, such as bluish lips or fingernails, paleness and decreasing alertness, lay the person on his or her back and lift the legs approximately 12 inches if possible. If he or she has any head, neck or spine injuries, just let the individual lie flat
- Continuing to check the person’s heart rate every five minutes or so
- Attempting to ascertain what kind of drugs were consumed and at what time if possible. When emergency personnel arrive, present any information or leftover paraphernalia that was around the scene
Undergoing a medical emergency is a serious plight to deal with, especially when a drug or alcohol addiction is involved. By contacting the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline, people can overcome their coexisting issues by finding the best help available in the state. Speak to a consultant online or over the phone for more information on how to fully recover.