HealthWatch: VR To Beat Addiction


The numbers are staggering. More than 72,000 people died from a drug overdose last year alone. That’s 200 a day.  One person every eight minutes. And the vast majority of those overdoses were opioids.  
One hundred and 15 people die from an opioid overdose every day in the U.S. But addiction and overuse were not even on Felicia Kleinpeter’s radar when she was prescribed painkillers after a car accident. 
“They made me feel very euphoric. I used to joke that they were my double cappuccinos,” said Kleinpeter.
But that quickly turned into a very heavy dependence. 
Kleinpeter shared, “I lost my family, my husband, my children. I was declared an unfit mother in court.” 
Her partner Christopher O’Shea also struggled with alcohol addiction. 
“I have been in long-term recovery for well over 30 years,” said O’Shea.
They are excited to be one of the first to use a virtual headset to help others struggling with addiction in their rehab facility. 
During a therapy session, the headset places patients in realistic virtual situations that trigger cravings of drug and alcohol addiction. 
“The therapist can accompany you while you’re in a bar or a party setting and teach you skills in that therapy session,” said Patrick Bordnick, PhD, MPH, Dean of Tulane University School of Social Work.
Skills that can help with long-term sobriety. For those just beginning their recovery, O’Shea says it’s a struggle, but with practice it gets easier. 
“This isn’t a life sentence. This is just a today sentence,” said O’Shea.
The VR headset will be available within the next six months for clinical use. From his research on using virtual reality for addiction, Professor Bordnick is now looking to use virtual reality to empower children and adults with autism with job interviewing skills and social interaction.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Dave Harrison, Editor.

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REPORT:    MB #4491

BACKGROUND: Research on the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of research-based methods that help people to stop using drugs and resume productive lives, also known as being in recovery. Like other chronic diseases such as heart disease or asthma, treatment for drug addiction usually isn’t a cure, but addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives. The chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process, but newer treatments are designed to help with relapse prevention. Relapse rates for drug use are similar to rates for other chronic medical illnesses. If people stop following their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse.

COPING: Some coping mechanisms that experts recommend to those dealing with addiction are: tell someone that you’re having urges to use. Call a friend, a support, or someone in recovery. Share with them what you’re going through. Distract yourself. When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself. Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Get up and go for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge and don’t do anything, you’re giving your mental relapse room to grow. Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes. When you’re in an urge, it feels like an eternity. But if you can keep yourself busy and do the things you’re supposed to do, it’ll quickly be gone.
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Patrick Bordnick, dean of the Tulane School of Social Work, has been honored for his work in the field of virtual reality. Bordnick received the Not Impossible Vitality Award, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield, for an innovation called VR-? and VR-Qualis Est Vita (quality of life). Still in development, the VR-? is designed to put patients into realistic virtual worlds using smartphone-based virtual reality, recreating situations that identify and trigger cravings akin to drug and alcohol addiction. The tool will allow for individualized patient diagnostics and aids in treatment by teaching coping mechanisms to avoid relapse. He said the use of portable virtual reality on smartphones provides a needed tool for clinicians working with substance abuse patients and augments traditional intervention approaches to enhance therapeutic gains.


Barri Bronston, Public Relations

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know~to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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