Using tax revenue from the sale of legal cannabis to fight substance abuse might seem a little ironic, but health professionals are happy to accept the money for the public good. With its new, pot-funded program that creates simulated conversations about alcohol and drug abuse, a Denver nonprofit hopes the public will be able to help itself.
Peer Assistance Services has been providing interventional services for Colorado communities battling substance abuse for over thirty years. It recently received $200,000 from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing for its newest project, One Degree: Shift the Influence, which includes Sims-style computer exercises designed to create a role-playing atmosphere for users, simulating two lifelike situations. Each One Degree character faces relatable problems shared by demographics across the state: Donna recently went through a divorce and is using alcohol to cope with the stress and mental anguish; Jordan, a younger man, is partying too much with alcohol and cannabis to the point of struggling at work.
Users play the role of Phil, a concerned cousin of Donna's or a co-worker of Jordan's, to talk to each character about their issues. Each simulation lasts only a few minutes, and the approaches and skills in the segments can be used in conversations with an adolescent or much older adult, according to Peer. "We wanted to build a confidence about bringing up a topic that can be uncomfortable," says Peer training and consultation manager Carolyn Swenson. "It's about helping people find out what can make a conversation like this successful or unsuccessful."
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Peer also received state pot revenue in 2016 to train health professionals around Colorado on how to best speak with substance-abuse patients and intervene earlier. This new conversational program aims to provide a means of self-education. It was made in partnership with New York-based Kognito Solutions, a conversation- simulation programmer that specializes in social-health topics; the simulations were tested on the public and substance-abuse specialists before they were rolled out.
"There are a lot of experts on how that money has been allocated. [Our society] hasn't focused much on prevention and early intervention, and that's cost our country a lot of money when people start to develop serious problems later in life," Swenson explains. "We feel like a focus on prevention makes a lot of sense. When you bring these topics up with general health care, it de-stigmatizes the issue."
For Peer, making the program accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone with an Internet connection was important in order to reach Colorado's wide-ranging population, she adds. But while One Degree was made with Coloradans in mind, the program is available to anyone in the country.
Try out each simulation and learn more about Peer on the One Degree website.