How Is Video Game Technology Being Used to Address the Opioid Crisis?
Did you know that more than 11 million people abused prescription opioids in 2016? How about the fact that almost $80 billion has been spent on healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice related to opioid abuse since this epidemic began? The numbers are staggering, but so is the opioid crisis in America.
If you have been watching the news, then you have probably heard that American politicians are actively working to reduce the number of opioids available to the public while also providing additional funding to fight the abuse of these drugs. Unfortunately, while experts continue to look for solutions, there is still much to be done.
Addiction is an issue that plagues people of all walks of life, with even some comic books facing the issue head-on. Alongside them, some bright minds in the tech sector are using video games to come up with their own answers. Take a look at how the gaming industry is lending a hand.
The Opioid Crisis
Some of the most common forms of opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. The intention of these medications is to treat severe or persistent pain by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, effectively blocking the pain messages so the patient doesn’t feel the discomfort associated with their injury. Some of the most common reasons for treatment include chronic back pain and headaches, along with those recovering from surgery or working to fight cancer. Some may also seek opioids after facing a car accident or sports injury.
Like all medications, opioids do have their side effects, including nausea and sleepiness. However, when they are used long term or abused past their recommended dosage, opioids can be very addictive. Just like many other addictions, once the feelings that opioids provide wear off, the brain wants more of the positive feelings that the drug provided. Without help, the addiction can quickly get out of hand, with elevated symptoms including aching, sweating, and chills.
However, addiction to opioids can get so much worse, and if not properly treated, abuse of these drugs could result in death. In the state of Texas, there were close to 4,000 opioid-related deaths during 2016 alone, with the United States as a whole seeing 64,000 deaths in the same year. Many of these deaths are due to the fact that the part of the brain that the opioids interact with also regulates our breathing, so an overdose could lead to trouble breathing and eventual death.
Virtual Reality to Combat Pain
Obviously, something must be done to combat the opioid issue, but finding the answer is not easy. You might wonder why we can’t just take opioids off of the market. The problem is that many people need the medication. The amount of opioids prescribed has decreased since 2012, but the number of deaths has still risen. There are some medications, such as suboxone, that are prescribed to fight the dependence of opioids, but not everyone has access to it.
So what if there was a way to manage the pain that didn’t involve the use of drugs? Video game technology could be the answer, and virtual reality could be key.
Virtual reality is awesome in gaming because it can transport the player to different worlds and grant them abilities that they don’t have in their everyday lives. Some companies are using the technology to combat pain so patients don’t have to turn to opioids.
At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, staff are using VR to transfer those suffering from sickle cell disease to an underwater world where they can shoot bubbles at the sea life that passes by. The point of this experience is to divert the gamer’s attention away from their pain, and many healthcare providers are using such VR experiences to reduce pain by as much as 50%.
When veterans come home from war, they can bring with them psychological and physical damage, and some may turn to opioids to quell the pain. Instead, a new virtual reality program gives these vets their choice of VR environments that they can explore to take their mind off of the pain. A vet that deals with PTSD can enjoy a serene underwater scene, or a vet in a wheelchair can climb mountains and take in the gorgeous wildlife. The aim is to limit their dependence on drugs. It has been shown to help those who suffer from anxiety lower their heartbeat by two or three levels.
A New Game Could Prevent Relapse
Many people are successful at getting themselves off of opioids, but quitting an addiction can be easier said than done. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, agitation, hypertension, and seizures. Many opioid addicts will do anything to avoid these issues and be free from pain. Luckily, a new video game is making a big impression, and it could do wonders to help people avoid relapse.
Created by Data Cubed, the game is called Resilience IQ, and its function is to help those struggling with opioid addiction through a variety of quizzes and gaming experiences. For the gaming portion, the user plays through an avatar as they travel to a city where they can be at ease as they take in the sights and experiences. While they are playing, they are monitored to determine if they are feeling any impulses or are experiencing cravings, and counselors can use that information to determine if a relapse is imminent.
In the end, one of the best methods for fighting opioid addiction is to do something else to keep busy so there is less focus on the pain. That could include going to the movies, playing sports, and even playing standard video games in moderation. These activities could give those with addiction the distraction they need. Most importantly, anyone who is struggling with opioids should speak to a counselor.
While we are a long way from eradicating opioid addiction, it is still good to know that new methods are being developed to fight this terrible epidemic. As video game technology continues to evolve, dependence could decrease.