Colorado Marijuana Taxes Fund Sims-Style RPG Aimed at Substance Abuse


A Denver-based nonprofit that focuses on fighting substance abuse will be able to try a new approach to curbing drug addiction thanks to a sizable infusion of cash derived from the state’s cannabis tax revenue.

Peer Assistance Services, a company that has spent the last three decades helping people conduct difficult intervention-related conversations with their loved ones about drug use, will use a $200,000 contribution from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to fund a new project called “One Degree: Shift the Influence.”

One Degree is a web- or app-based simulation tool that replicates conversations about drug and alcohol abuse for friends and family members to practice and gain insight before intervening to help someone close to them.

The role-playing activity somewhat resembles the video game series, “The Sims,” where virtual characters can converse and interact with each other. One Degree features two different scenarios designed to help players better understand both sides of the situation. One scenario highlights “Donna,” a recently divorced woman who is relieving stress and grief by drinking alcohol excessively. The other roleplaying story features “Jordan,” whose partying is beginning to affect his work.

When a user plays One Degree, they assume the identity of Phil, who is either a cousin of Donna’s who is worried about her drinking or a concerned co-worker of Jordan’s. The problems faced by Donna and Jordan, as well as the dilemma Phil finds himself in, are meant to assist the player in preparing for a similar real-world dialogue.


“We wanted to build a confidence about bringing up a topic that can be uncomfortable,” explained Peer Assistance Services training and consultation manager Carolyn Swenson to Westword. “It’s about helping people find out what can make a conversation like this successful or unsuccessful.”

Last year, Peer Assistance Services was also the beneficiary of Colorado legal cannabis revenue and invested in training for health industry workers around the state that would help them assess the best time to intervene and provide best practices for having those difficult discussions.

“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 added. “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.”

While One Degree was designed with Coloradans in mind, anyone that has a smartphone or computer with an internet connection can give it a try.

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