SIU professor’s VR training research project could help prevent opioid-related deaths
CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Could virtual reality be the key to preventing opioid overdoses?
A professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, along with his colleagues, believe a VR-based training tool may offer some insight into saving lives during opioid overdoses.
Wasantha Jayawardene is an assistant professor of public health and adjunct professor of population science and policy at SIUC. He and his colleagues received a $30,000 seed grant for the project titled “Developing and Testing the Virtual Reality Embedded Naloxone Training (VENT)” from the Illinois Innovation Network. SIU is also providing equal matching funding.
Jayawardene said many opioid deaths are preventable, but reaction must be quick and effective. Brain cells begin dying within 5 minutes after breathing stops, but the average time for an ambulance to arrive is 7 minutes. And in many rural areas, it takes 14 minutes or longer, studies say.
While delivering life-saving naloxone, commonly known by its brand name Narcan, can be as easy as using a nasal spray, Jayawardene explained that many people are uncomfortable in overdose situations. Training programs exist, but getting people to participate is a difficult task.
But what if the training was easy and laid back? Well that’s where virtual reality comes in.
The VENT project uses new technology to deliver training using a mixed reality prototype. This tech combines virtual reality with physical reality, using the actual spray device and a manikin along with a virtual reality training headset.
“The use of virtual reality in life support trainings can make the users feel immersed in their surroundings and improve learning engagement,” Jayawardene said.
Initially, the research project will be comprised of a group of 15 laypeople and five experts with diverse backgrounds, including physicians, nurses, community health workers, researchers, community members, people who have family members with opioid prescriptions and others. This group will pilot the virtual reality training module.
Then the researchers will modify the training based on the results and further field test it throughout the state to determine whether the VENT project is superior to traditional community trainings in usability and preference.
If the VENT model is found to be more effective, they will refine it and seek funding to implement the training on a larger scale, focusing on high-risk groups.
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