Discovering the needs of people who inject drugs

The goal of this work was to help people who inject drugs access new equipment and information so they reduce their harm when injecting. On this project, I was a User Researcher at With You.


With You offers support with alcohol, drugs and mental health. In response to Covid-19, most services moved online or over the phone. But the number of people visiting needle and syringe services had dropped by 50% since the start of Covid-19, and no one was offering remote services for people who inject. I was asked to lead a discovery into the needs of people who inject drugs. This was a new focus for the Digital team, who had primarily learned about people who use alcohol or are in recovery.


I met staff who deliver services to learn how delivery had changed during Covid-19. I also met clinical experts to learn more about the range of people who inject. This helped me create a plan for who to recruit and how.

I used these engagements to write research objectives:


I interviewed users, frontline workers, pharmacists and other experts. I did one-to-one interviews, so I could focus on key objectives while taking into account each individual’s specific needs and traumatic triggers.

Interviews took place on the phone, Whatsapp, or Google Meet. I organised phone credits and helped those who needed to borrow phones or computers. After interviews, I connected people with support workers or their own networks to reflect safely.

Make sense

I learned about denial, shame and worry and how much motivation it takes to get help, because people fear judgment or getting in trouble.

I’m embarrassed to go in for new needles. I’m scared to run into my key worker.

When people did go to a needle exchange, usually from a friend's recommendation, they felt better because they knew what to expect. But those who hadn’t gotten help before were nervous and couldn’t find alternative options.


I started by sharing findings with close collaborators, including designers, developers and a product manager. We came up with ideas for what to do next.

I also held a session with staff who work in services and received their feedback on the findings and next steps. Then, I created a presentation for senior stakeholders. I focused on connecting our recommendations to the research as well as the organization's strategy, in order to have our next steps approved.

And to share findings more widely, I created a README that was sent around the organization.


By showing that fear stops people from getting help, my research helped us focus on the most risky stage in the journey and design for an anxious and worried mindset.

We also realized our hypothesis that most people who inject don't have internet access was not true, so we started looking at both in-person and online services.

We changed how we describe services and added a new section to the website. Then we tested content and a needle and syringe service finder. I contributed to my colleague's blog post about this work.