North Texas

Using Virtual Reality 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-fifteen 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.

“I lost my family, my husband, my children," Kleinpeter shared. "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 Dr. Patrick Bordnick, 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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