Virtual reality trains public to reverse opioid overdoses

The United States has seen a 200% increase in the rate of deaths by opioid overdose in the last 20 years. But many of these deaths were preventable. Naloxone, also called Narcan, is a prescription drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and in more than 40 states—including Pennsylvania—there is a standing order policy, which makes it available to anyone, without an individual prescription from a healthcare provider.

person holding a virtual reality headset to their eyes.
The School of Nursing offers a virtual reality simulation to train responders how to administer Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug. (Pre-pandemic image)

Members of the public can carry naloxone in case they encounter a person experiencing an opioid overdose. But how do you know if someone needs naloxone and is it administered? Health care providers are often trained to respond in these types of situations, and prior to the onset of COVID-19, public health organizations were offering in-person trainings to the public.

A group of interdisciplinary researchers from Penn and the Philadelphia Department of Public Heath developed a virtual reality immersive video training aimed to get even more people trained and motivated to save lives from opioid overdoses. Their new study—published in Drug and Alcohol Prevention—shows that the VR training is just as effective as an in-person training at giving the public both the knowledge and the confidence they need to administer naloxone and save lives.

“Overdoses aren’t happening in hospitals and doctor’s offices,” says Nicholas Giordano, former lecturer at Penn’s School of Nursing. “They’re happening in our communities: in parks, libraries, and even in our own homes. It’s crucial that we get the ability to save lives into the hands of the people on the front lines in close proximity to individuals at risk of overdose.”

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.