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Penn Nursing and Annenberg School for Communication Partner with Camden County to Launch Virtual Reality Narcan Training

Last year, 354 people died from opioid overdoses in Camden County, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, which in 2022 recorded an estimated 15,407 administrations statewide of naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan. This year, New Jersey launched an initiative allowing anyone 14 and older to anonymously obtain naloxone for free at more than 600 participating pharmacies across the state. Camden County, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has also installed secure NaloxBoxes in every public school.

November 06, 2023

Despite this increased availability, many people still don’t know when or how to administer the nasal spray that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, or that it’s harmless even when someone isn’t overdosing.

The Camden County Office of the Prosecutor enlisted Penn’s School of Nursing and Annenberg School for Communication’s Virtual Reality ColLABorative to create a locally tailored training video on Narcan administration, using virtual reality to create an immersive viewing experience. County officials recently announced the launch of the nine-minute video, which is supported by funding from the 2022 Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) Operation Helping Hand grant, administered by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Camden County to get as many people trained as possible, to reach as many people as we can,” prosecutor Grace C. MacAulay says, adding that without the help from Penn, “we would not be able to effectuate this training rollout this efficiently, this quickly, and this well.” She says the video lays out Narcan administration in simple terms and provides the reassurance, “It can’t hurt you; it can only help, and even if it turns out someone did not need it, there’s no harm, nor liability.”

John Pellicane, director of the Camden County Office of Mental Health and Addiction, says that training decreases stigma while increasing education and acceptance of harm reduction. He says the county has NaloxBoxes in public libraries, health facilities, schools, courts, bars, motels, parks, and other settings where someone might be able to respond to an overdose. The county has Overdose Emergency Kits on some school buses and has so far trained 275 school bus drivers to respond to an overdose.

From Penn Nursing to Philadelphia to Camden County

The Camden County-Penn partnership stemmed from a prior training video co-created by Kyle Cassidy, a technologist at Annenberg, and is the third in a series of VR Narcan training collaborations with Penn Nursing, following trainings of nursing students in 2018 and laypeople in Philadelphia in 2020.

Cassidy co-founded the Annenberg Virtual Reality ColLABorative in 2022 with research associate Katerina Girginova, who received her Ph.D. from Annenberg in 2018. Cassidy had long been interested in virtual reality and with David Toccafondi, manager of Penn Libraries’ Vitale Digital Media Lab, also co-founded the Penn Working Group on Virtual Reality. Through that, Cassidy met Ann Marie Hoyt-Brennan, director of the School of Nursing’s Helene Fuld Pavilion for Innovative Learning and Simulation. Penn Nursing had recently incorporated Narcan training into its curriculum, but Hoyt-Brennan wanted something more accessible to the broader community than an hourlong, in-person training.

Cassidy suggested VR as an alternative approach. Since it is time-consuming to bring in people for regular training, Hoyt-Brennan says she saw VR as the solution to get as many people trained as possible.

Funded by the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation, they conducted a pilot study in Hoyt-Brennan’s Nursing in the Community course in 2018, in which some students received standard simulation training Hoyt-Brennan created while others used a VR experience Cassidy adapted from it. Before-and-after questionnaires showed that VR students performed just as well, and researchers—led by former Penn Nursing lecturer Nicholas Giordano—published their findings in Nurse Education Today.

This is an excerpt from a longer story that was first published in Penn Today. It was written by Erica Moser, science writer in University Communications.

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