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Paying injection drug users to educate and recruit their peers

Why participant-driven interventions are an ethical public health model

The criminalization of drug use has made it difficult to reach injection drug users (IDUs) with public health interventions. The “peer-driven intervention” (PDI) makes use of the existing social network of IDUs to educate and recruit participants in the intervention. Participant IDUs are given nominal financial rewards for being interviewed, for recruiting IDUs to the program, and for educating their recruits. Using peers as educators, PDIs build a discourse of prevention in the community and contextualize those messages in daily interactions of IDUs. Some critics of the PDI model, however, have balked at the idea of providing active injectors with financial rewards that can be used to purchase drugs. This essay, which describes some of the ways that the Eastern Connecticut Outreach Project worked to avoid potential pitfalls of the reward program, defends the PDI as an ethically superior model for public health intervention.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)

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