A game-based approach to engage teens on medication safety – UWPRC Small Grant Projects

UWPRC staff recently sat down with Dr. Olufunmilola Abraham, one of our 2020 Small Grants recipients, to learn more about her project Assessing the Feasibility of Utilizing a Game-based Participatory Approach to Co-create Personalized Family Opioid Medication Safety Plans:

The misuse of prescription opioids is a challenging problem that continues to significantly affects youth and families. This research study will assess the feasibility of utilizing a game-based participatory approach to preventing prescription opioid misuse while facilitating safe and responsible use of medications among diverse families. The long term goal of this project is to develop a MEDSMA℞T Family Toolkit that provides a clear framework and engaging approach for facilitating parent-teen communication about medication safety in homes. This pilot study will generate preliminary data for future development of a Medication Safety and Adolescent Communication Toolkit (MEDSMA℞T Families).

Focus on prevention

The opioid crisis is a national problem for a lot of teens and families and Wisconsin is not an exception. The opioid crisis puts a lot of families at risk of negative consequences of prescription opioid misuse. Teens start misusing as early as the age of 12 and often get access to medications from their friends, relatives, and sometimes the healthcare system. A lot of interventions are being created to to tackle this crisis but they often focus on addiction treatment. Not many interventions focus on the pre-addiction phase and Dr. Abraham’s project is unique in Wisconsin. She and her team partner with teens and families to help them think about medication safety before they get a chance to misuse – they want to intervene before teens are exposed to bad behaviors from peers or parents.

“The Pediatrics Pharmacy Association recommends that we start educating children and their families, and empower parents to talk to their children about safe drug-use hence the family-driven intervention approach that we have adopted” – Dr. Olufunmilola Abraham.

Engaging teens with game-based learning

MEDSMA℞T: Adventures in PharmaCity, is a game-based learning approach where players learn about safe and responsible medication use from encounters in the game. The game is built based on knowledge gaps that the team has learned about from teens during focus groups and from data collected elsewhere. The UWPRC grant allowed the team to involve parents in this process, resulting in MEDSMA℞T Families which offers parents a fun way to engage their teens in conversations about medication safety.

Teens and parents working together

A unique characteristic of this project is that the research team gets perspectives of both teens and parents about how to tackle this issue proactively. Traditionally, teens and/or parents are given a pamphlet about the issue in the hopes that it works. This new approach is more inclusive and assesses where teens are. It also allows parents and teens to work together and create a family medication safety plan based on what they learn in the game.

The game makes it easy for parents and teens to talk to each other about a topic that traditionally tends to be dominated by parents. With the game approach, the teens might feel empowered since they are more tech-savvy than their parents and “get” the game more than their parents do. “They start going off of each other and asking each other – did you pass that level yet?! – and so on to lead the conversation,” says Dr. Abraham. The game also makes it easier for the researchers to connect with the teens.

For the last few months, the team has been working with a Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of teens from around the country. The YAB helped them fine-tune the game as well as the family medication safety plan.

Dr. Abraham shares that the engagement from participants, especially youth has been phenomenal. The team has gotten a lot of positive feedback about the teens enjoying being involved in this project. They find that it’s a way to keep their parents accountable and have a conversation about the right practices for responsible medication use. They also feel empowered to monitor what their family should be doing to stay safe (the Family Medication Safety Plan).

Progress and next steps

While Dr. Abraham originally hoped to follow a 12-month timeline, with COVID-19, staff turnover, and creating their own advisory board, the project will take longer. However, this has come with some added benefits to the project. Originally the team was planning on only recruiting from Wisconsin, but with everything being virtual, they were able to expand their recruitment efforts to the whole country. This also led them to have a national advisory board.

After they get preliminary data, the next step for the team includes applying for federal funding to implement this program into clinical settings – adolescent health clinics, pediatric surgery clinics, etc. – or pharmacies where opioids may be dispensed. They are also thinking about potential policy recommendations that require discussing a family medication safety plan whenever and wherever opioids are prescribed or dispensed.

Learn more about the project: https://crome.wisc.edu/MedSmart/families.php