Telegram as a space for peer-leded harm reduction communities and netreach interventions
Background: To date, studies of peer-led online harm reduction communities have focused on web forums, arguing out that online spaces are strategic settings for both obtaining up to date information on substances and patterns of use and implementing new forms of outreach on the web. The present study analyzes the content and dynamics of a spontaneous users’ group on Telegram, where a team of peer workers was invited to intervene. The study’s aim was to learn more about drug users' communities on chat apps and provide insights to professionals wishing to implement harm reduction interventions in this type of environment.
Methods: After obtaining the chat administrator’s permission, all content posted on the chat from March 1 to May 31, 2020 was analyzed adopting an abductive approach.
Results: It was found that peer-led communities based on a chat app are not very different from earlier web forum communities. The findings also show that the chat’s activity does not run counter to the public health perspective on drug use, provided that harm reduction is recognized and as an important and effective strategy, and that drug users are quite open to dialog and discussion with professionals who adopt the non-judgmental peer-to-peer approach typical of outreach interventions.
Conclusions: Such an approach can be successful in gaining the attention and trust of people who use drugs, thereby boosting their spontaneous harm reduction attitudes.