Paul Dillon is on leave. This column first appeared in the Star in May 2005.

We’ve spoken a number of times about what to do when someone collapses. We’ve spoken about the recovery position and how important it is to call for medical help as quickly as possible.

Panic attacks

Although panic attacks can be alarming, they’re relatively harmless and usually pass. Panic attacks usually occur when someone is having a bad experience on hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, although some people have had them on ecstasy and cannabis. Saying that, they can be very frightening for the person experiencing them -“ often there is a belief that they will die or lose total control.

What are the signs?

Breathing is difficult, laboured or far too fast and they may have difficulty swallowing. The user can be sweating or trembling. They may complain of a headache, backache, chest pains or palpitations.

What can you do?

Take the person somewhere cool and quiet and attempt to reassure them and talk them down. Be firm with them but don’t shout at them or threaten violence -“ this will only make the matter worse.

If their breathing is rapid and irregular, get them to breathe more slowly by copying your breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth). Unless the person becomes violent there should be no real reason to call for medical help -“ but it is vital that you stay with them until they have calmed down completely.

Dehydration/ overheating

Most ecstasy users are aware that one of the major risks associated with the drug is its ability to raise body temperature -“ sometimes to very dangerous levels.

If a person then also dances for a long time without drinking enough, the body loses excessive amounts of fluid, as well as salt. This can result in heat exhaustion (overheating) and dehydration.

What are the signs?

The person will usually complain of a headache or cramps and feel dizzy. They may look pale and sweaty and there is a possibility that they may faint. The user’s face and particularly their forehead may appear flushed and they usually feel very hot.

What can you do?

Firstly, remove your friend from any hot, crowded environment. Go to a cool place and make sure there is air movement.

Lie the person down. Give them something to drink -“ water, juice or a sports drink -“ but it is important that you do not let them drink too much too quickly. Undo any tight clothing, splash them with some cool water and fan them.

It is vital that you monitor the person closely and if he or she doesn’t improve quickly or seems to be getting any worse, call for medical assistance immediately.

Some of the information for this article was sourced from Australian Drugs Info File by Dr Miriam Stoppard.

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