"Our analysis of the needs of PWUD [People Who Use Drugs] and services provided to them demonstrates two major functions performed by web outreach workers: 1. They can provide certain services completely online, and 2. They navigate clients within the organization in order to match the needs of the PWUD with a person who can address them. Our research on web outreach work indicates an increasing level of efficiency that comes from online provision of harm reduction services. Instead of traveling to a harm reduction facility, PWUD can contact the organization via an online platform. Furthermore, harm reduction services provided entirely online gain particular relevance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when offline harm reduction organizations experienced new challenges to providing in-person outreach services.
"Our findings suggest that online harm reduction services provision can be improved in terms of accessibility and efficiency. A challenge for web outreach work, as described by informants, was the inability of workers to communicate with PWUD after hours. One possible solution is to automatize some processes with Telegram bots, as it was done with the cases of OD [Overdoses]. Currently, web outreach workers manually send information to PWUD. If automatized, then PWUD themselves could use a bot to get necessary information at any time of the day. However, not all services can be automatized with a bot; therefore, it may be necessary to employ some workers, who could reply to clients’ requests after hours. This is especially important in emergency situations, such as OD. Another way to develop provision of online harm reduction services is to increase their presence on darknet forums. Greater presence could potentially make online services accessible to more groups of PWUD, who request urgent help after hours and/or who do not use Telegram. Another obstacle in increasing accessibility of online harm reduction services was that some clients refused to continue communication with web outreach workers via the phone. More research is needed to explore the needs that PWUD have in such cases, identify the reasons why certain PWUD refuse to communicate via the phone, and explore how web outreach work can be provided in such instances."
Davitadze, A., Meylakhs, P., Lakhov, A. et al. Harm reduction via online platforms for people who use drugs in Russia: a qualitative analysis of web outreach work. Harm Reduct J 17, 98 (2020). doi.org/10.1186/s12954-020-00452-6.