Presenting author: Rita Brien
Presenting author biography:
Rita is an Assistant Lecturer of Addictive Behaviours at Monash University and volunteers with The Loop Australia. An experienced coordinator of research, education, and public health projects, Rita is interested in the social and political context of AOD use and passionate about promoting pragmatic, best-practice harm reduction policy and programs.
Co-designing drug alerts with health and community workers as part of an early warning network
Rita Brien, Isabelle Volpe, Jasmin Grigg, Virginia McKinnon, Tom Lyons, Alan Eade, Sione Crawford, Stephanie Tzanetis, Nicole Lee, Caitlin Hughes, Monica Jane Barratt
Drug alerts about high-risk substances and unregulated market trends may help health and community workers anticipate, prevent and respond more effectively to unexpected adverse events. This study explored factors influencing the successful design and implementation of drug alerts in the context of an emerging early warning network in Victoria, Australia. We used a participatory, mixed methods approach to co-produce drug alert prototypes with health and harm reduction workers employed across the alcohol and other drugs and acute healthcare settings. A needs-analysis survey (n=184) informed five co-design workshops (n=31). Three alert prototypes were drafted based on findings and evaluated for acceptability and utility.
Practitioners and managers considered themselves ‘conduits’ for sharing information with a range of stakeholders (people who use drugs, colleagues, services, the wider community). Timely and reliable drug market information was important to their work, but few reported sufficient access to evidence-based information about emerging threats and trends. Alerts were considered useful for improving knowledge and facilitating information exchange; promoting risk awareness and harm reduction messaging; and supporting coordinated, best-practice responses to drug-related harm in the community. However, alert design is complicated by the diverse information needs of multiple audience groups with varied drug knowledge, experience, and objectives.
Key challenges arose that impacted the co-design process. Ultimately, early warning systems must be supported by multidisciplinary networks that can rapidly identify and assess risk to translate relevant information into comprehensive alerts to meet the needs of diverse stakeholder groups. To achieve maximum reach, engagement, and responsive action, alert systems must carefully navigate the broader socio-political context and challenges of prohibition and stigma, while ensuring clear and concise messaging that builds audience trust in the credibility of information and its source. This study highlighted the importance of audience participation in alert planning, development, and dissemination to ensure relevance, utility, and impact.