The newest game from the play2PREVENT (p2P) Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games, PlaySmart, concluded its pilot study in May 2021, and is preparing to start a randomized controlled trial in the fall of 2021 as well as work with its national implementation sites.
Developed in partnership with the national School-Based Health Alliance and Schell Games, the PlaySmart game is aimed at preventing opioid misuse in teens, and was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the NIH HEAL Initiative in April 2018 to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and enhance pain management, and introduced a subsequent effort the following year to prevent opioid use disorder in adolescents.
Postgraduate Associate Kaitlyn Larkin talked about the development of the new game and the pilot study. “We started with our formative work, where we conducted focus groups and interviews with a variety of populations, including opioid naive adolescents, treatment providers of opioid use disorder, one individual in treatment for opioid use disorder, and prevention specialists. We also partnered with the School-Based Health Alliance and conducted focus groups with their staff affiliates, and Youth Advisory Board,” explained Larkin.
From that work, the p2P lab identified major themes to be included in the game. Through the focus groups, they discovered that some of the students didn’t know what an opioid is or how dangerous opioid misuse could be. The link between mental health and opioid misuse emerged as a salient theme in these discussions. “We know that early intervention is key. Therefore, we incorporated storylines and skill-building activities to improve mental health awareness and coping strategies, to normalize help-seeking behaviors, and to increase mental health service utilization,” said Claudia-Santi F. Fernandes, EdD, LPC, deputy director of mental health & well-being, and a licensed professional counselor in private practice.
The first version of the PlaySmart game was completed in March 2021, and the pilot study concluded in May. As part of the pilot study, students across the country aged 16-19, played the game and participated in focus group discussions. The p2P team is working with Schell Games to revise the game before moving into the randomized controlled trial with 532 students that are enrolled in school-based health centers in Connecticut in the fall 2021. They will also be working with 15 national implementation sites to test strategies for sustainability and conduct an economic evaluation.
Tyra Pendergrass Boomer, p2P’s deputy director of programs & partnerships, is proud of the partnerships they have developed through the lab. “With whatever project that we are engaging in at the time, we have relevant community partners. For this project in addition to our standing partnerships with schools, we also had and will continue to have the amazing support and partnership from Community Health Center Inc., Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, and Optimus Health. One of the things that I really admire about our team, is that we put forth a lot of effort to make sure that we are integrated into the school communities, so the students know us,” she said.
Lynn Fiellin, MD, professor of medicine (general medicine), Yale Child Study Center, and Public Health; founding director of the p2P Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games; and PI of this grant, is particularly proud of this project. As someone who is trained in addiction medicine and part of the core faculty in Yale’s Program in Addiction Medicine, Fiellin said, “For many years, I saw both in my clinical and research work the tragedies associated with opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose. This HEAL project is the opportunity I had been waiting for so that we could focus on preventing these outcomes by working specifically with teens and all of our other partners to positively impact what we are seeing with the opioid crisis.”
The p2P lab launched over 11 years ago. To learn more about its work, visit the p2P website.
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