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Emergency Medical Treatment for Adverse Effects of Drugs

A Paramedic coming out of an ambulance

Any recreational drug use is likely to carry a degree of risk. This includes legal highs such as alcohol and tobacco but is especially true of illegal drugs due to lack of regulation and the often unsafe context in which they may be consumed. 

It is of utmost importance that frontline healthcare workers understand the appropriate emergency medical treatment for drug-related admissions but these resources may also be helpful for harm reduction in a community setting.

This page explains everything you need to know about emergency medical treatment for drugs:

Emergency Medical Treatment

In this module, you will learn the prevalence of recreational drug use, specific to each substance, as well as the rate of hospitalisation.

We'll explain the different ways that recreational drugs can result in emergency medical treatment, the specific risks associated with each recreational drug, and how they present.

We'll then provide detailed guidance on the necessary care and suggested emergency medical treatment pertaining to recreational drug use.

About this module

The Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) is very happy to have worked with Drug Science in 2020 and 2021 to develop and update this slide series for use in medical education. Medical practitioners are often the first people to come into contact with people who use substances, and it is vital that those practitioners are able to provide a positive response and to deliver evidence-based interventions from that first moment and all the way through to the end of that person’s care.

These slides are primarily for use in medical education settings but have been carefully designed to ensure that they are accessible for a wide range of people. They will therefore provide a rapid overview for medical students and other healthcare professionals. They are free to use; the aim of both organisations is to optimise dissemination of research into practice, so if these slides are of use to you, please use them. If you have any queries, please contact Drug Science or SSA through their websites and we will be glad to answer your questions.

The project has used the extensive knowledge and expertise of Drug Science and the SSA to develop these up-to-date, evidence based and accessible resources. We hope you enjoy them.

The SSA’s aim is to broaden and promote the scientific understanding of addiction. We particularly aim to advocate for the use of research evidence in policy and practice.

The SSA was founded in 1884 as the ‘Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety’ and is the oldest organisation of its type in the UK. The SSA disseminates research through the journals Addiction and Addiction Biology, through its Annual Conference, through its website ( and social media, and by supporting third-party projects and conferences. The society funds PhDs, academic fellowships, travelling fellowships, post-doctoral studies, and offers bursaries to improve access to training and education in addiction.

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