Thursday, 8 August 2013

Have you discussed calling 000 with your child?

Ensuring that young people feel comfortable calling for an ambulance should something go wrong when they are partying has always been a crucial part of any presentation I deliver at schools. Unfortunately, this message has never been more important due to a recent number of what are believed to be NBOMe-related deaths. Four young men across three states have died after taking what they believed was LSD. In addition to the deaths, significant numbers of young people have been admitted to emergency departments across the country after using LSD, as well as police reports of parties or gatherings that they have had to attend where adolescents have exhibited bizarre behaviour believed to be linked to the use of NBOMe products.

Calling an ambulance can be confronting for anyone, but when it is a young person calling for a friend who has possibly taken an illegal drug it can be a terrifying experience. It never ceases to amaze me that any teen can make that call. The tragedy is that some don't and as a result things go terribly wrong. 

I've made quite a big deal about the fact that for the first time in my 20 years of giving presentations in schools, I am now giving an explicit drug warning about NBOMe products that could be being sold as LSD. Part of that message is ensuring that young people understand that if they do call for an ambulance, that does not necessarily mean that the police will be involved and they need to call for help as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately I have had to add a caveat to my message due to a number of emails I received from parents last year around calling 000. Each of them were concerned that I had told their teens to call an ambulance (i.e., 000) and not them first should something go wrong - they made it extremely clear that they did not want their child to receive that message. The reasons for this concern were varied. One of them believed that her child was not mature enough to cope with calling 000 and the "experience would be too traumatic", another felt that his son did not have the ability to judge whether an ambulance needed to be called and he would need to discuss with him "whether or not the call was warranted"!

As a result I now have to say to young people that they should go home and discuss with their parents  what process they would like them to follow. Realistically you would have to wonder what a parent could actually do once their child does call them. It's not as if a parent can deal with the emergency more effectively from where they are and if they plan to travel to where their child is calling from to support them in some way, how much time are they wasting? Calling 000 and then calling their parent straight afterwards is most probably the preferred option but it is important for me to respect parental wishes, so encouraging a parent-child discussion on the issue is the best I can do ...   

If you are planning on having a discussion with your teen about calling an ambulance (or any emergency service for that matter), it would be really useful to run through what actually happens when you make a 000 call,  just in case. As you can see from the incident below, if they don't have a full understanding of what will happen when they make the call, things can go wrong ...

Justine lived in country NSW and was out with her best friend Cathy. Both were 15 years old. They were at a party with a group of older boys and felt completely out of their depth. Most of the people were older and for the first time the girls were drinking straight spirits, not pre-mixed drinks. Cathy became unwell quite early and it became quite obvious that the boys they had arrived with had become completely uninterested in them both. When Cathy lost consciousness and began to vomit without waking up, Justine knew it was a medical emergency and tried to get help. The older girls at the party told Justine that Cathy would be okay and to let her ‘sleep it off’. Knowing the danger, Justine called 000. The operator asked her ‘ Which service do you require?’, the standard first question for the 000 line. Justine, who was already scared and confused, had no idea what the operator meant and when the follow-up question asked whether she wanted ‘police, fire or ambulance’, she completely freaked out and hung-up.

Still all alone, Justine finally got the courage to re-dial 000 and requested an ambulance.

It’s all well and good to tell our children to call 000, but they also need to have additional information to assist them with what happens next, and has already been said, they also need to know that you completely support them in their decision to make this type of call.

When you call 000 the operator will ask you whether you need the police, fire or ambulance services. Depending on whether you use a mobile, fixed line, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service or a payphone to call the Emergency Call Service, you may also be asked to provide details of the state and town you are calling from. The operator will then connect you to the emergency service organisation you have requested.

If you are calling from a land line, your location details will automatically appear on the operator’s screen and will be passed on to the emergency service organisation you request.  However, you may still be asked to confirm your location information to the operator (or the emergency service organisation).

However, we know that most young people will be using a mobile phone. Unfortunately, in these cases the operator will not be able to pinpoint their location. Mobile phone users should provide the operator with as much information about the location of the emergency situation, including the State or Territory and the town or suburb. This simple step will ensure that the emergency call is connected to the appropriate state or territory emergency service organisation.

One important message that we do not emphasize enough to our children is for them to know the address of where they are partying. If something goes wrong, the 000 operator will need a location – if you don’t know the street address this will prove difficult. This is a particular problem in country areas where young people often hold parties in difficult to get to areas and almost non-existent addresses.

It is also important to let your teenagers know that 112 is the international standard emergency number which can only be dialled on mobile phones.  112 can be dialled in many parts of the world with mobile coverage and can be automatically translated to that country's emergency number, although there are some exceptions. There was a time when we heavily promoted 112 as another option for young people should they need emergency services, particularly in country areas, however this is now not encouraged as phone coverage in most areas has improved. 

For those people who are deaf, or who have a hearing or speech impairment there is also a text-based Emergency Call Service number – 106. This service operates using a teletypewriter (TTY) but does not accept voice calls or SMS messages.

If you haven't had a discussion with your child on this topic, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Every child (not only teens) need to feel completely supported should they find themselves in a situation where they need to call an ambulance, with the slightest hesitation possibly leading to tragic consequences.

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