Using web-based pin-drop maps to capture activity spaces among young adults who use drugs in rural areas: Cross-sectional survey

Hannah Luke Fenimore Cooper, Natalie D. Crawford, Regine Haardörfer, Nadya Prood, Carla Jones-Harrell, Umedjon Ibragimov, April M. Ballard, April M. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Epicenters of harmful drug use are expanding to US rural areas, with rural young adults bearing a disproportionate burden. A large body of work suggests that place characteristics (eg, spatial access to health services) shape vulnerability to drug-related harms among urban residents. Research on the role of place characteristics in shaping these harms among rural residents is nascent, as are methods of gathering place-based data. Objective: We (1) analyzed whether young rural adults who used drugs answered self-administered Web-based mapping items about locations where they engaged in risk behaviors and (2) determined the precision of mapped locations. Methods: Eligible individuals had to report recently using opioids to get high; be aged between 18 and 35 years; and live in the 5-county rural Appalachian Kentucky study area. We used targeted outreach and peer-referral methods to recruit participants. The survey asked participants to drop a pin in interactive maps to mark where they completed the survey, and where they had slept most; used drugs most; and had sex most in the past 6 months. Precision was assessed by (1) determining whether mapped locations were within 100 m of a structure and (2) calculating the Euclidean distance between the pin-drop home location and the street address where participants reported sleeping most often. Measures of central tendency and dispersion were calculated for all variables; distributions of missingness for mapping items and for the Euclidean distance variable were explored across participant characteristics. Results: Of the 151 participants, 88.7% (134/151) completed all mapping items, and ≥92.1% (>139/151) dropped a pin at each of the 4 locations queried. Missingness did not vary across most participant characteristics, except that lower percentages of full-time workers and peer-recruited participants mapped some locations. Two-thirds of the pin-drop sex and drug use locations were less than 100 m from a structure, as were 92.1% (139/151) of pin-drop home locations. The median distance between the pin-drop and street-address home locations was 2.0 miles (25th percentile=0.8 miles; 75th percentile=5.5 miles); distances were shorter for high-school graduates, staff-recruited participants, and participants reporting no technical difficulties completing the survey. Conclusions: Missingness for mapping items was low and unlikely to introduce bias, given that it varied across few participant characteristics. Precision results were mixed. In a rural study area of 1378 square miles, most pin-drop home addresses were near a structure; it is unsurprising that fewer drug and sex locations were near structures because most participants reported engaging in these activities outside at times. The error in pin-drop home locations, however, might be too large for some purposes. We offer several recommendations to strengthen future research, including gathering metadata on the extent to which participants zoom in on each map and recruiting participants via trusted staff.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13593
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 JMIR Publications Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Activity spaces
  • Geospatial methods
  • Risk environment
  • Rural
  • Substance use disorder
  • Web-based data collection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics


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