OBJECTIVES: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, much in-person data collection has been suspended or become tele-remote. However, tele-remote methods often exclude marginalized groups, including people who use drugs, many of whom lack the technology to participate. To inform future surveillance and research during the pandemic and other public health disasters, we report methods and lessons learned from an in-person survey of people who use opioids conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: This public health surveillance was a component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Overdose Data to Action initiative and aimed to inform overdose prevention efforts. Survey domains inquired about participants’ drug use patterns, risk behaviors, overdose history, and service use.
RESULTS: From June 16 through September 9, 2020, DOHMH staff members conducted 329 surveys with participants from 4 syringe service programs (n = 148, 44.9%) and via street intercept (n = 81, 55.1%). To survey participants safely and effectively, it was important to build rapport upfront so that requests to maintain distance were not perceived as stigmatizing. DOHMH staff members offered all participants, regardless of survey eligibility, Narcan and hygiene products, including face masks and soap.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Surveys administered outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic should be limited to 30 minutes. Although conducting in-person surveys poses unique challenges, this method should be considered so marginalized populations are included in data collection and public health responses.
Collecting data during the COVID-19 pandemic: Lessons from an in-person survey of people who use opioids
Public Health Reports, 137 (2), 272-277. doi: 10.1177/00333549211063473. PMCID: PMC8900227.