Co-designing drug alerts for health and community workers for an emerging early warning system in Victoria, Australia

Rita Brien, Isabelle Volpe, Jasmin Grigg, Tom Lyons, Caitlin Hughes, Ginny McKinnon, Stephanie Tzanetis, Sione Crawford, Alan Eade, Nicole Lee, Monica J. Barratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Alerts about changes in unregulated drug markets may be useful for supporting health and community workers to anticipate, prevent, and respond to unexpected adverse drug events. This study aimed to establish factors influencing the successful design and implementation of drug alerts for use in clinical and community service settings in Victoria, Australia.

Methods: An iterative mixed methods design was used to co-produce drug alert prototypes with practitioners and managers working across various alcohol and other drug services and emergency medicine settings. A quantitative needs-analysis survey (n = 184) informed five qualitative co-design workshops (n = 31). Alert prototypes were drafted based on findings and tested for utility and acceptability. Applicable constructs from the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research helped to conceptualise factors that impact successful alert system design.

Results: Timely and reliable alerts about unexpected drug market changes were important to nearly all workers (98%) yet many reported insufficient access to this kind of information (64%). Workers considered themselves ‘conduits’ for information-sharing and valued alerts for increasing exposure to drug market intelligence; facilitating communication about potential threats and trends; and improving capacity for effective responding to drug-related harm. Alerts should be ‘shareable’ across a range of clinical and community settings and audiences. To maximise engagement and impact, alerts must command attention, be easily recognisable, be available on multiple platforms (electronic and printable formats) in varying levels of detail, and be disseminated via appropriate notification mechanisms to meet the needs of diverse stakeholder groups. Three drug alert prototypes (SMS prompt, summary flyer, and a detailed poster) were endorsed by workers as useful for supporting their work responding to unexpected drug-related harms.

Discussion: Alerts informed by coordinated early warning networks that offer close to real-time detection of unexpected substances can provide rapid, evidence-based drug market intelligence to inform preventive and responsive action to drug-related harm. The success of alert systems requires adequate planning and resourcing to support design, implementation, and evaluation, which includes consultation with all relevant audiences to understand how to maximise engagement with information, recommendations, and advice. Our findings about factors impacting successful alert design have utility to inform the development of local early warning systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Number of pages27
JournalHarm Reduction Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2023


  • Drug alerts
  • Early warning systems
  • Emerging drugs
  • Harm reduction


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