Contaminated drugs: what you need to know

Drugs are changing. Any substance bought illicitly could contain a more dangerous drug like nitazenes or xylazine. Learn about contaminated drugs and steps you can take to reduce harm.


Drugs are changing: any substance bought illicitly could contain a more dangerous drug

Cheaper and more dangerous drugs - like synthetic opioids, xylazine and synthetic cannabinoids (Spice) - have been found in the UK’s illicit (non-prescribed) drug supply. 

Many illicit drugs - including heroin, benzodiazepines and THC vapes - are being mixed with, or replaced entirely by, these more dangerous drugs. 

As the drug taken might not be what’s expected and could have different effects, there is an increased risk of harm, overdose and death.

Drugs are changing

Any substance bought illicitly could contain more dangerous drugs like synthetic opioids, xylazine and synthetic cannabinoids.

Steps to reduce harm

  • Start with a small amount and space out your doses 
  • Make sure there’s someone who can help you if you overdose
  • Take one drug at a time

If someone overdoses

Put them in the recovery position and call 999. If you have naloxone, give it.


Steps to help reduce harm, overdose and death

We recognise that some ways of using drugs carry less risk than others, and by providing information which supports people to make informed decisions, we can help people to minimise harm.

What’s in the drug you’re taking and the strength can vary between batches, so even if you use drugs regularly:

  • start with a small amount

  • wait to see how it affects you

  • space out your doses

It is best not to use if you’re on your own or in a position where nobody could help you if you overdose.

A buddy system - where one person takes their hit first and waits until the peak effects have worn off before the other person uses - makes it more likely that someone can help in an emergency.

Try to take one drug at a time. Mixing different drugs, including with alcohol, can increase your risk of harm and overdose.

What to do if someone overdoses

If you think someone has overdosed, put them in the recovery position and get help fast by calling 999, telling emergency services what you know. If you have naloxone, it's always best to use it.

Signs of an overdose will depend on what’s been taken, but may include:
  • Not being able to wake someone up

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Lips or fingertips with a blue (on lighter skin) or grey (if darker skin) tinge

  • Finding it difficult to walk or talk 

  • Confusion

  • Drug paraphernalia being on the floor 

If you have naloxone, administer it

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, methadone and fentanyl. If someone hasn’t overdosed on opioids, naloxone won’t harm them - but if they have, it could save their life.

You can get a naloxone kit and training on how to use it from your local WithYou service. 

More information about naloxone, including how to use it.


Looking for support?

If you’re concerned about your illicit prescription drug use, or if you’re worried about someone you know, we’re WithYou. We provide free, confidential and non-judgemental support and advice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out: