Leveraging citizen science and the power of civil society networks in a trans European mobile application
People who use drugs (PWUDs) are increasingly turning online to seek information/advice and proffer their opinions around substances. Many civil society organisations working in the area are collecting information around trends in a siloed fashion with little structured dialogue with authorities. As a result, this ERASMUS+ funded project aims to develop a mobile application that will connect PWUD to service providers and authorities in a digital substance use ecosystem that facilitates an early warning and response system which leverages the powers of citizen science and civil society organisation networks. The project is a partnership between Help Not Harm, Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA) and Nightlife Empowerment and Wellbeing (NEWNET) network. The partnerships spans several dozen NGOs found mainly in Western, Central and Eastern Europe.
The necessity for three core features were identified: (1) sending of alerts/warnings (2) submission of user reports and (3) accessing of harm reduction services. Help Not Harm was responsible for overseeing the app development in conjunction with National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics’ ‘E- Government Unit’. YODA and NEWNET mapped services and translated content into different European languages. YODA facilitated the promotion of the app through a the development of a website, video and publication translated into multiple languages and by hosting a regional promotional event.
A hybrid (Android and OS) mobile application was developed in 15+ languages which mapped services in 15 European member states reflecting most of the coverage of project partners. The warning/alerts function was developed using an existing API developed by the Trans European Drug Information (T.E.D.I.) network. The map of services mapped six primary harm reduction services (drug consumption sites, opioid substitution therapy providers, needle and syringe programs, drug checking services, sexual health services and festival harm reduction providers). The user submission function was developed using existing reagent testing data; discrepancies between "sold as" and anticipated colorimetric reactions triggered automatic alerts to service providers which in turn could use this data to prioritize substances for in-depth laboratory analysis.
This project successfully produced a novel mobile application which connects PWUD to European service providers and authorities. The app leverages citizen science and the power of civil society organisation networks for the purposes of enhancing the capacity of Early Warning Systems (EWS) to be more responsive and effective in preventing, reducing and treating the harms related to drug use. The project was limited in its scope due to funding. Future development will center on increasing the geographic spread and number of languages in which the app is available. The project team will also consider future telecare and self-assessment functions.