Risk communication for people who use MDMA/‘ecstasy’ and related drugs

February 2020

Dr Amy Peacock
Dr Rachel Sutherland
Dr Monica Barratt
Dr Raimondo Bruno

Other Collaborators: 

Dr Mary Ellen Harrod, NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA)
Thomas Capell-Hattam, NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA)
Prof Harry Sumnall, Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University
Dr Michelle Cretikos, Centre for Population Health, NSW Ministry of Health
Dr Robert Page, Kirketon Road Centre/St Vincent’s Hospital

Project description: 

Due to the unregulated nature of the illicit drug market, consumers are often unaware of substance contents. Some public health agencies and other organisations disseminate ‘drug alerts’ (i.e., communication about significant unique or pervasive health risks of a specific substance) to increase consumer awareness of risk of harm and promote harm reduction behaviour. However, there is a distinct lack of research regarding consumer preferences for communication of these alerts, as well as potential intended and unintended behavioural responses. Previous research has concentrated on people who inject drugs, with little consideration of heterogeneity between consumers of illicit drugs and of theory underpinning risk communication, and with little exploration of preferences regarding language, content and communication mode.

The aims of this study are to develop practical guidance for stakeholders communicating drug alerts to people who use MDMA/‘ecstasy’ and related drugs. Specifically, we will examine:

  1. Consumer preferences for communication of drug alerts for:
    1. Language
    2. Content
    3. Timeliness
    4. Communication mode

 Anticipated intended and unintended responses to drug alerts (i.e., awareness of risk of harm and behavioural responses) under scenarios of different content information about:  

    1. Substance characteristics
    2. Substance effects
    3. Harm reduction messaging

 The latter aim will include exploration of factors associated with differential responses to drug alerts (e.g., risk perception style of recipient).

Through partnerships between researchers, consumers, clinicians and other stakeholders, we will achieve the development of guidance by:

  1. Data collection: Gathering data via an online survey (n=~1,000) on consumer communication preferences and potential behavioural responses to drug alerts
  2. Data synthesis: Synthesising survey results, existing evidence, international guidance and case reports of outcomes of previous drug alerts to prepare a draft guidance document
  3. Guidance evaluation: Reviewing this draft guidance with two reference groups involving i) stakeholders communicating alerts, and ii) consumers
  4. Guidance dissemination and translation: Actively promoting guidance (e.g., through a report, webinar, conference workshop, social media) with those responsible for communication of drug alerts

 This guidance will facilitate timely, consistent, and evidence-based messaging of drug alerts to reduce risk of drug-related harm, including informing communication through NCCRED’s Prompt Response Network (PRN) and other communication channels.

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