What To Do if Someone Overdoses?

person overdosing on pills

What is an overdose?

When a person takes too much of a drug either intentionally or by accident – it is considered an overdose. The drug might be alcohol, prescription medication or illicit drugs.  

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an overdose?

These will vary depending on the type and quantity of drug(s) taken, however typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Dizziness, faintness
  • Convulsions
  • Weak pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do if you suspect someone has overdosed

It’s vitally important that before you do anything, you must ensure your own safety.

Some overdoses or drug-affected people can potentially be very dangerous. If you have any reason to believe you might be in danger, get yourself to a safe place immediately. You can still call the ambulance and help from there.

  1. Follow the standard First Aid Response – DRSABCD
  2. Call 000 and ask for an ambulance.
  3. If the casualty is unconscious, place them carefully on their SIDE and check their airway, breathing and pulse.
  4. Follow the advice of the 000 operator. They are trained to help over the phone until the ambulance arrives, so stay calm, listen to them and advise of any changes to the patient as they occur.
  5. Begin CPR if necessary and you are able to do so – sometimes dangers to you might exist that prevent you from doing CPR, such as aggressive bystanders who might also be under the effects of a drug.
  6. If breathing and pulse are normal, maintain the unconscious person carefully on their SIDE and continue to monitor breathing and pulse. Do not try to induce vomiting.
  7. Try to establish which drug was taken and send any containers, tablets or syringes to the hospital with the casualty. Also send a sample of vomit, in a covered jar.

What to tell the Emergency Staff

In order for the emergency staff to help you and the patient in the best way possible, it’s important to give them as much information as possible. Typical questions you can expect include:

  1. Your phone number and the address of where the patient is located
  2. Describe the problem and what happened
  3. The sex and age of the patient
  4. Whether they are conscious or not
  5. What they have taken – if known
  6. Any other health issues the patient may have – if known

If it’s appropriate and possible for you to follow the patient to the hospital, be prepared to answer the same questions again, and take the time to think about any additional information you might be able to provide regarding the patient. 

Where to get help

If you’re worried about the patient’s substance use, or if you’re the patient and you would like to seek help, we recommend contacting one of the following support services:

Alcohol & Drug Foundation. Here you can speak to a real person and get answers to your questions about alcohol and drugs, and advice on practical ‘next steps’.

Lifeline. This is a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention telephone hotline who can assist you and help you to get the support you need. Call 13 11 14 to talk to a trained counsellor.

Beyond Blue. This is another support service that offers one-on-one chats with a trained mental health professional. Call 1300 22 4636 24/7.

Experiencing someone else’s overdose can be very traumatic, so we also recommend reaching out for support, to help you come to terms with what you have been through.

What to do if someone is suffering an acute mental health episode

man with hands on head

What Are The Warning Signs Of An Acute Mental Health Episode?

It might not be obvious if someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition or considering suicide, but there can be warning signs:

  • Has their behaviour become erratic or are they having mood swings?
  • Are they withdrawing from life and displaying no interest in socialising or engaging?
  • Are they being self-destructive or wreckless?
  • Do they talk about feeling trapped or hopeless?
  • Are they saying goodbye to people as if they won’t see them again?
  • Do they talk about “ending it” or say it would be better if they weren’t here, or they wish they were dead?
  • Have they obtained means to take their own life, e.g. bought pills?

What to do if you suspect someone is suffering an acute mental health episode

First and foremost you must ensure your own safety – people who are mentally unwell can be spontaneous in their behaviour and may be a risk to you as a first aider.

You may also want to talk to the person, to try and find out if they are in immediate danger of acting on any possible suicidal thoughts.

Ensure they’re in an environment that makes them feel safe. You need to remember that it is not your role to diagnose a mental health condition – your role is to ensure your safety and the patient’s safety. It is also to make a decision on whether the ambulance is needed to attend, or if it’s more appropriate for a family member or the patient’s doctor to attend.

The most important thing to remember is that the patient may not be thinking in a manner that they would normally think – their actions may be unusual, spontaneous without logic or even threatening to you or others.

While waiting for professional assistance it can help to engage in conversation, if the patient is open to this. Some patients may be unwilling or unable to communicate with you, in these cases just being there can actually help them.

Let them know that you are genuinely concerned for them, but remember that you are not a trained counselor, and as such should not attempt to diagnose or make judgements on what the patient should or shouldn’t do. Your role is simply to listen and show empathy for them. 

If at any stage you are concerned for your own safety or the patients safety, you should call for police and an ambulance, if they have not been summoned already.

When speaking to someone who is suspected of suffering an acute mental health episode, remember:

  • Always put your own safety first
  • The patient may not be of sound mind so reasoning with them might not be possible
  • Never argue with the person
  • Simple reassurances such as ‘don’t worry’, ‘cheer up’, ‘you have everything going for you’ or ‘everything will be alright’ WILL NOT HELP
  • Don’t use guilt or threats to prevent suicide
  • Be sure that your body language shows you are interested and concerned for them
  • Be supportive and be a listener – silence is absolutely OK. Be patient and give them time

How to respond when talking with a person who is suspected of suffering an acute mental health episode

The first aider needs to:

  • Accept what the person is saying without agreeing or disagreeing – it’s important they don’t feel judged
  • Show you are listening by repeating back to the person what they are saying
  • Clarify important points so they know you understand
  • Express empathy for the suicidal person
  • Suggest it might be worth chatting to someone before they make a decision

Where to get help

Lifeline. This is a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention telephone hotline who can assist you and help you to get the support you need. Call 13 11 14 to talk to a trained counsellor.

Beyond Blue. This is another support service that offers one-on-one chats with a trained mental health professional. Call 1300 22 4636 24/7.

Two New Alternatives to the EPIPEN Being Reviewed


The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is currently reviewing two  applications for registration of alternate adrenaline injectors in the Australian market. It is important that people at risk of anaphylaxis and their treating doctor can discuss options of adrenaline injector devices and choose a device that best suits their needs.

While researching both of these new options neither indicated any pricing. The cost of replacement Epipens has always been an issue so it will be interesting what the cost will be for these new options if they get approved.

The new options being reviewed are the SYMJEPI and a new version of the ANAPEN.

The Symjepi

The Symjepi looks like a relatively small device which is ideal given the need to carry it with you all the time. However it does appear to require manual covering of the exposed needle. The current Epipen does this automatically. In my opinion, this action of making the exposed needle safe is extremely important in an emergency situation. It will be interesting what the TGA decide and when this device might be available.

The Anapen

The new Anapen hopefully is an improvement on the original version. Looking the manufacturers website the Anapen still requires manual retraction, or covering of the exposed needle. As with the Symjepi device, I personally see this as an issue during emergencies. Inexperienced first aiders will naturally be a little anxious when giving any medication to a person suffering severe anaphylaxis and as such, having an exposed needle can lead to ‘needle stick’ injuries.

How to use an Anapen adrenaline injector | First Aid for Free

Although having a monopoly in any industry isnt always a good thing for the end user, I feel that the Epipen is still the best option for ‘pre-hospital care’ of severe anaphylaxis. It will be interesting to see what the TGA does and if both or either of these new devices are approved.

Remember it is VITAL that you know how to use your own Epipen (or equivalent) or the devices that those around you might require to treat their anaphylaxis.

Please be aware this article is not a replacement for official first aid or medical advice, but simply information and best practice on this kind of injury. You should always call a medical professional for advice if you are unsure or in a serious situation.

Find out more about the basic first aid steps you can take at home for more than 50+ different illnesses and injuries in our free A to Z Guide.


Do not attend any courses if you are required to be Self-Isolating as per NSW Dept of Health or have any cold / flu symptoms

As COVID 19 has rapidly changing effects on our community, please refer to NSW Health for the most up to date and accurate information

Health.nsw.gov.au Covid 19 update

As at 20th July 2022 it is a recommendation to wear masks whilst attending our courses

Vital first aid logo