Insight story: Research on drug-addiction amongst Russian adolescents

Early 2020, Health[e]Foundation together with Mainline and AFEW organized a blended-learning training on Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) for a multicountry project, which prepares participants to conduct research among vulnerable populations in different regions of Russia, Kenya, Vietnam and South Africa.

For a better understanding of what our training participants face during their work, Health[e]Foundation interviewed one of the course participants, Egor Sekretov. Egor is a manager of social projects and social educator at the STEP Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. The Foundation provides social and psychological support to HIV-positive and drug-addicted people, and also works on their rehabilitation and social adaptation.

Why we need Community Based Participatory Research

Unfortunately, at the moment in Russia, there are no stable programs for the rehabilitation of drug-addicted adolescents and there is no legislative framework that would regulate this area. Today, it is almost impossible to place a drug user in a social rehabilitation center; it is much easier to place him or her in a psychiatric hospital. The drug scene in Russia is changing, the drug user is getting younger, Russia is facing monstrous records: this year a 14-year-old girl, who has been injecting drugs for more than a year, turned to the STEP Foundation for help.

Egor explains that they know how to work with adult clients, there is a certain legal basis and there are clear rules, but with regard to adolescents, the legislation does not keep pace with reality. At this moment, they have to rely solely on official Russian statistics, which, unfortunately, leave much to be desired. Therefore, conducting independent and unbiased research is urgently needed in the current realities, as Egor mentions: ‘We must have relevant data with which we can subsequently work to be able to treat adolescents.’


Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) has become popular as an approach for researchers who are designing and doing research in the community. CBPR is based on the concept that it is important to involve the community, organizational representatives and participant researchers throughout the research process; and aims to improve the communities’ health and quality of life. Research findings can be used to stimulate social change and improve the wellbeing of the community. The CBPR[e]Education course was conducted by Health[e]Foundation, Mainline and AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) International to motivate and train community-based organizations and researchers to use new and relevant interventions to address public health concerns with the involvement of the community.

The research topic of the STEP Foundation is “Factors of starting of psychoactive drugs use among young people from 14 to 20 years old in the Nizhny Novgorod region undergoing a social and psychological rehabilitation program”, in other words, it is a search for an answer to the question of how and why young people in Russia start using drugs. Together with the Focus-Media Fund from Moscow, STEP plans to include more than 500 people in the study who’ll take part in it through surveys and in-depth interviews.

Structure of the CBPR blended learning

The entire CBPR training is built on a blended but completely remote learning model. In addition to the e-learning modules offered on the Health[e]Foundation e-learning platform, it included online lectures via Zoom from experienced experts; each module of the e-learning was accompanied by a corresponding lecture from an expert who supplemented the theoretical information with practical examples and provided all the necessary explanations. This two-way approach allowed all participants to study at their own comfortable pace, but at the same time feel the help and support from the e-tutors and receive answers to all questions that arise.

 The digital blended-learning model of Health[e]Foundation proofed its value with the digital workshops combined with e-learning.  The distance learning approach allowed to roll out the program in different Russian regions, including participants from all parts of Russia without being hindered by the current COVID-19 outbreak and its challenges.

 “The main thing that the CBPR e-course gave me was a basic understanding of how research work is generally organized,” says Egor. He learned that conducting research involves a serious scientific approach, and is not limited to a questionnaire in Google Docs. ‘Everything turned out to be much deeper and more complicated: there is an ethical component, there is a structure and research methodology, analysis of research data, and its translation. This was completely new and incredibly valuable information for me.’

The way forward

Egor plans to seek the opinion of the ethics committee in order to further promote its results, as well as include them in applications for grants for supporting the key groups. This is, in fact, one of the priority goals and motivators for organizing this study. The STEP Foundation will also use their achievements when building partnerships with government agencies. They will try to transfer the results of their research to government agencies in order to push this process. Hoping that the emergence of a legislation for adolescents will soon be established.