Potential benefits of using ecological momentary assessment to study high-risk polydrug use

Alexis M. Roth, Marisa Felsher, Megan Reed, Jesse L. Goldshear, Quan Truong, Richard S. Garfein, Janie Simmons


Background: While studies have documented both the feasibility and acceptability of using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to study drug use, there is little empirical research assessing participants’ perceptions of utilizing this technology-driven approach.
Methods: Participants were English-speaking persons ≥18 years old who reported injection drug use and sequential (e.g., alcohol followed by opioid use) or simultaneous (i.e., injecting heroin and cocaine in one shot) polydrug use within 30 days recruited in San Diego, CA and Philadelphia, PA. Participants (N=36) completed two cell phone-based EMA simulations assessing mood, drug use, HIV risk behaviors, and daily activities, followed by semi-structured interviews that probed for potential benefits of participation over time. Qualitative analysis involved an iterative process of reviewing texts from the interviews to create a coding framework, which was then applied to all transcripts to identify themes.
Results: Findings suggest participants may derive indirect benefits from participation in EMA studies including: improved self-worth from helping others; experiencing increased social support through utilization of the study-provided mobile device for non-research purposes; and most importantly, increased self-reflection, which could lead to therapeutic and intervention-like effects such as decreased substance use or reduced HIV risk.
Conclusions: Participants identified a variety of potential benefits from participating in a study that utilizes EMA. This research suggests that benefits are highly salient for individuals involved in studies of polydrug use.