NARCAN - Grid Lab demo

White House official Anne Hazlett demonstrates a virtual reality headset in the OU GRID Lab designed to educate people on responding to drug overdoses.

A White House official in Athens Friday morning demonstrated a virtual-reality simulation designed by faculty members and students at Ohio University’s GRID Lab. 

Anne Hazlett, senior adviser for rural affairs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, began her visit to OU with a showcase of a virtual-reality project intended to educate university staff and students on drug overdoses.

Scripps College of Communication’s GRID Lab staff, composed of more than 50 students and faculty members, developed a series of virtual-reality programs that detail drug abuse in the region and how to properly care for someone who has overdosed. 

This series includes first-person virtual-reality instructions on how to correctly administer NARCAN, a brand of the life-saving drug Naloxone that’s used to treat drug overdoses in emergency situations. 

Sherleena Buchman, an assistant professor of nursing at OU, developed an early version of this project with team of 12 students and professionals during Spring Semester of 2018. Since then, the project has grown from a single virtual-reality simulation into an extensive educational program that is now receiving national attention. 

“I was working in area hospitals and hearing from my colleagues; we were all hearing the same thing,” Buchman said while welcoming Hazlett. “We have people of all ages overdosing.”

The simulation that Hazlett demonstrated depicts a student who has overdosed in a dorm room, and two other students who enter the room, call 911 and properly administer NARCAN. The simulation provides real-time step-by-step instructions on how to effectively handle an all-too-real emergency situation. 

“We’ve had some very good results with using virtual reality for learning,” Buchman said before the demo. “I think when we take that and we put students in the scenarios, it has been really impactful because now they’re in the room of someone who is overdosing and they’re actually feeling like they are present enough to administer that NARCAN.”

The simulation provides the viewer with 360-degree audio and video of his or her virtual surroundings through a headset, making the viewer feel as though he or she’s actually there, completely immersed in the experience. 

“Wow,” Hazlett declared after removing the virtual-reality headset. “That is powerful.”

In an interview after the demonstration, Hazlett drew attention to the possible opportunity for using programs like the NARCAN simulation to train law enforcement and first responders to be more effective in treating and understanding someone who has overdosed. 

“Attitudes toward this issue are so important,” she said. “I think things like this go a long way.”

While much of the GRID Lab’s virtual-reality work uses a headset in a lab environment, GRID Lab Director John Bowditch told Hazlett that programmers are working to make this kind of learning accessible to both the public and other educational institutions. 

“The headset that you wore is actually now only $150, so the price on that has come down significantly, and that helps quite a bit,” Bowditch told Hazlett after the demonsration. “We have also created a website to deliver all of this content, so you don’t actually need a headset to experience it. You can just use your mouse to move around in the scene.”

The NARCAN simulation project is still under development as GRID Lab staffers work to bring the software to new platforms and broader audiences.

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