The use of social media within an isolated network of people who inject drugs

First published: 09 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Social media offers a cheap and accessible way to pass health advice to the general population and by the utilising ‘peer led enthusiasm’ it is in some circumstances more effective than other media.

The feasibility of using online peer leaders to advocate harm reduction has been investigated in some hard to reach populations but it has not been established in people who inject drugs (PWID).


To explore the online connectivity and use of social media within an isolated network of PWID


Respondent driven sampling was used to recruit 70 PWID for a social network survey on the Isle of Wight, UK and fifteen local PWID were purposively recruited for qualitative interviews.


Thirty-two (46%) participants reported being ‘Facebook™ friends’ with other PWID living on the IOW, these were significantly more likely to be female (61 vs. 29%; p=0.02) and tended to have a larger reported physical network (16.6 vs. 15.6). 28% of ties (edges) within the network incorporated a ‘FaceBook™ friendship’.

There was evidence online edges within the network were used to maintain risk-taking behaviours, however, there was also evidence that social media was used as an aid to personal recovery. Despite clear barriers to its use there were individuals that felt able to exert a positive influence on their peers through the use of social media.


Social media was accessible to and used by some PWIDs within this network, however the scale of connectivity was limited with clear barriers to its use.  There is potential for harm reduction through peer leadership on social media but the feasibility and potential impact of this needs exploring further.


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Dr Ryan Buchanan