New study in collaboration with UW School of Pharmacy uses game-based learning to teach opioid safety

Teenager looking down at smartphone

Prescription drug misuse is one of the fastest growing drug problems in the United States today. The misuse of prescription opioids in particular is a challenging problem that significantly affects youth and families, especially among vulnerable and underserved populations—including adolescents and teenagers.

Dr. Irene (Allie) Hurst, assistant professor, Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, will serve as Co-Principal Investigator on a new research study aimed at addressing this issue titled “Disseminating and Implementing MedSMA℞T Families in the Emergency Department: an Evidence-based Approach for Improving Opioid Safety Among Adolescents and Parents” in collaboration with Dr. Olufunmilola Abraham from the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy.

The study will look at the implementation of an innovative digital gaming app to educate emergency department patients and their caregivers about the dangers of prescription medicine misuse and safe medication handling practices.

The gaming app will focus on promoting safe opioid use, handling and disposal, and builds on Dr. Abraham’s previous work developing an innovative video game to teach high schoolers about safe practices regarding opioid medications—the first-ever intervention of its kind. Like its predecessor, the new gaming app features a lineup of anthropomorphized characters learning how to deal with the social pressures surrounding opioids.

Why focus on patients in the emergency department setting? The answer is two-fold.

Emergency departments treat serious injuries and illnesses, making them key locations where doctors may prescribe acute pain management medications to young adults and teens. These patients are often accompanied by a parent or caregiver who may have little to no knowledge about safely using and disposing of opioid drugs.

The research team hopes to leverage this unique setting to stem opioid misuse and prevent future addiction and dependence by providing education simultaneously to both youth and adults.

Funding for the study comes via a $150,000 grant from the 2022 Dissemination & Implementation Research pilot award program, co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Dr. Abraham will be the principal investigator through the Collaborative Research on MEdication use & family health (CRoME) Lab at the UW School of Pharmacy.

About the Principal Investigators

Olufunmilola Abraham, BPharm, MS, PhD, is an associate professor with tenure in the Social and Administrative Sciences Division of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Abraham is currently directing and collaborating on a variety of studies focused on using game-based interventions to improve medication use and health education for adolescents and young adults.

Dr. Abraham is an NIH/UW ICTR KL2 Scholar, as well as a Fellow of the UW Collaborative Center for Health Equity and the UW Morgridge Center for Public Service. She received her BPharm Degree from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and practiced as a hospital and community pharmacist in Nigeria. Dr. Abraham received her MS and PhD in Social and Administrative Pharmacy from the UW School of Pharmacy. She also received a PhD minor in Industrial and Systems Engineering from UW, focused on human factors and ergonomics and a graduate certification in patient safety.

Irene (Allie) Hurst, MD, MS, is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine, as well as Medical Director for Pediatric Emergency Medicine for the American Family Children’s Hospital. She completed her pediatric residency training at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago with Northwestern University, her pediatric emergency medicine fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Colorado through the University of Colorado, and her critical care/flight medicine fellowship through UW Health Med Flight. She also completed a graduate degree in clinical research at The Dartmouth Institute prior to starting medical school. Her research interests focus on adolescent health, specifically child sex trafficking and substance abuse.