Recommendations «Web – outreach for people who use drugs»

Web outreach is a method for contacting, counseling, engaging, and retaining PWUD in harm reduction programs through websites, social networks, messengers, and specialized forums, including darknet platforms.

These guidelines are intended for use by staff of non-governmental organizations working in the field of “harm reduction” among people who use drugs (PWUD), as well as representatives of public health and social service agencies in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

The approaches described here can be adapted according to the capacities and needs of a particular organization, as well as to the local context. This includes the online platform used, the popularity and demand for which may differ from country to country.

These recommendations could be adapted for web outreach to other key populations vulnerable to HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), tuberculosis (TB) including men who have sex with men, trans* people and women living with HIV.

Web outreach – conditions

In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, as the Internet developed and more and more people, including PWUD, were connected to the Web, the number of specialized Internet forums and websites dedicated to drug use, harm reduction, interaction of different substances with each other, etc. grew. These include the Daath forum in Hungary, the “Bihai” Forum in Russia, forum “Mothylek” in Ukraine, the r/Drugs community on the social news site Reddit in the United States, and many others.

In the 2010s, with the development of the Darknet marketplaces as a source of purchase and sale of drugs and increased control of law enforcement agencies over the open segment of the Internet, harm reduction issues also moved into the hidden segment of the Internet.

For example, from April to October 2013, Fernando Caudevilla the family doctor from Madrid, under the pseudonym DoctorX posted information on the Silk Road drug marketplace’s Darknet forums, answering questions from people who use drugs about safer drug use. After the marketplace closed and founder Ross Ulbricht was arrested, the remaining team members launched the Silk Road 2.0 website. There Caudeville answered 352 user questions.

In 2016, the Apdes organization (Portugal) organized training for outreach workers on new psychoactive substances (NPS), online communities and the Darknet. Eight web forums with branch (threads) on psychoactive substances (PS) use were identified. Each outreach worker took over one or two forums and started posting information about harm reduction, health preservation while using psychoactive substances, etc. This technique has been called “netreach”.

In 2018, activists of the Ukrainian project Harm Reduction 2.0 offered traditional prevention kits, including HIV and hepatitis C tests, instead of psychoactive substances to visitors of a darknet marketplace, distributing them as “bookmarks” (rolls of drugs that are placed by burying them in the ground or fastening them with magnets in accessible public areas of apartment buildings) and rewarding the most active participants with substance quality tests for motivation.

In 2018, the St. Petersburg Charitable Foundation “Humanitarian Action” (Russia), based on the experience of foreign colleagues and its own research, developed, and piloted a web outreach methodology that includes systematic, comprehensive, targeted work to attract PUD into harm reduction programs and keep them in these programs using websites, social networks, messengers, and specialized forums, including platforms in the hidden and open segments of the Internet. Since then, with the support of the UNODC Regional Program Office in Eastern Europe, this methodology has become increasingly common among service providers working with PWUD in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

You can download these recommendations in English AT THIS LINK.