Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the drug fentanyl in the media.
It started as a pain medication prescribed by doctors to patients following surgical procedures. Classified as a controlled substance, fentanyl is about 100 times more powerful than morphine.
In recent years, drug dealers have been spiking street drugs with fentanyl, leading to users who are unknowingly overdosing on high concentrations of the drug.
During the first nine months of 2017, 482 Albertans died from opioid-related overdoses compared to 346 deaths over the same period in 2016.
“It was so tragic seeing someone who had their whole life in front of them be cut short of that opportunity because of a mistake they made”
Michiko Maruyama, a cardiac surgery resident at the University of Alberta, witnessed first-hand the impact of fentanyl — watching young teenagers become organ donors because they overdosed on the opioid.
“It was so tragic seeing someone who had their whole life in front of them be cut short of that opportunity because of a mistake they made,” Maruyama explained when she sat down to chat with me about her project.
It was a sight she could not erase from her mind, so she consulted with physicians on ways they could educate and prevent youths from fentanyl abuse.
Together, they created a social awareness campaign called Doctors Against Tragedies. The campaign uses a game modelled after Cards Against Humanity to provide facts while dispelling myths surrounding fentanyl.
“We found that Cards Against Humanity was a very popular game among our target audience, youths and young adults, so we decided to use the game’s popularity and familiarity to help us with our mission,” Maruyama said. “The goal of our game is to raise awareness of fentanyl in a creative way that will help people.”
As she describes the game, Maruyama is quick to point out the creators of Cards Against Humanity are aware of the group’s rendition and endorses their mission.
“There are two versions of the Doctors Against Tragedies game — one is trivia-based and the other is related to social change,” Maruyama said. “All our cards have been peer-reviewed by physicians to ensure we are giving accurate information.”
Maruyama will be holding a session during International Week where students and the general public are invited to drop by and play the game. Physicians and medical students will also be on hand to help answer questions.
While she is enthusiastic about a strong turnout, Maruyama is also aware some people may brush off the importance of learning about fentanyl and the signs of a fentanyl overdose.
“If you are at a party and someone has overdosed, you can help save a life.”
“You might not do drugs and you might not know anyone who does drugs but there are still people around you who can be affected by fentanyl,” Maryuama said. “If you are at a party and someone has overdosed, you can help save a life.”
With a smile, Maruyama credits funding from a grant through the Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association for allowing the group to develop multiple prototypes of the game.
Eventually, Maruyama wants to see the game inside pubs, cafes, and restaurants across campus. She sees it as an opportunity for people to educate themselves on fentanyl with their friends as they wait for their food.
“The concept is that it’s not the typical poster you see in the bathroom stalls, instead, this is something people can interact with and play with,” Maruyama said. “In that regard, this will be more effective for people to learn and enjoy.”
The group is also looking for additional funding so they can distribute their game nationwide. They’ve also just launched an online version that will is free to download.
“We will not be making any money from this campaign because that is not the point,” Maruyama said. “This is about social awareness and social change so we can help each other in the community.”
Visit Doctors Against Tragedies to download a copy of the game.
International Week is the largest annual extracurricular educational event at the University of Alberta. The event fosters global citizenship through engagement with today’s most pressing issues. Maruyama’s event will be held on Friday, January 26 from 7:00–8:00am in the Shaw Auditorium at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute. You can also stop by the main floor of SUB to play a round of the game on Tuesday, January 30 and Wednesday, January 31 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on Doctors Against Tragedies, you can contact Maruyama through her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.