|Drug poisoning can be deliberate or accidental. Drugs may be prescription only, illegally supplied, or freely available from a chemist. Signs and symptoms of drug poisoning will vary, depending on the drug that has been taken.
- Keep yourself safe. The effect of some drugs, both legally and illegally supplied, can be to cause aggression or irrational behavior in the person who has taken them. If this is the case, do not approach the victim. Call 911 instead and explain the situation. They will make a decision about whether the police need to be called.
- Monitor and maintain the airway and breathing and be prepared to resuscitate if necessary, if it is safe for you to do so.
- If the person becomes unconscious. Place him or her into the recovery position.
- Call 911 and stay by the victim until assistance arrives.
- Look for clues as to the cause of the poisoning and inform medical staff.
Monitor and maintain the airway and breathing, clearing any obstructions that are in the mouth.
Do not assume that an empty container means all the drugs have been taken, but do pass it on to medical staff.
COMMON TYPES OF DRUGS AND THEIR EFFECT
Opioids (derived from opium, e.g. morphine, diamorphine (heroin)
Act on the brain and spinal cord to stop the perception of pain. Produce a state of well-being and relaxation. While they have legitimate medical use, they are among the most commonly abused drugs. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, constricted pupils, constipation, and slow and shallow breathing. Overdose may lead to unconsciousness and death.
Non-opiods (e.g. acetaminophen)
Act in similar way to the opiods but with fewer side effects. Signs of an overdose may not be immediately obvious but if the antidote is not administered swiftly, fatal liver failure can set in, even in an adult who appears to be healthy. Signs include pain, nausea, and vomiting.
NSAIDs Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen)
Act at the site of pain to prevent the painful stimulation of nerve endings. While generally safe, they can irritate the stomach lining, causing pain and bleeding, particularly in those susceptible to stomach ulcers.
Sleeping drug and antidepressants
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates
Stimulants and hallucinogens
Act by depressing brain function. Minor side effects include slow mental activity and drowsiness. Effects of overdose include gradual decline into unconsciousness, shallow breathing, and abnormal pulse rate.
Amphetamines (e.g. speed)
Act by stimulating the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Signs include out-of-character behavior, hallucinations, energetic sweating, and increased heart rate.