A new, online training tool is helping to spot a rare reaction to recreational drugs.

The digital drill was years in the making and the culmination of a local family’s fierce advocacy after a senseless tragedy.

Now they’re tapping technology to teach medical professionals and students a life-saving lesson they may not find in a textbook.

Professor Jim Carlson Ph.D. preps his first-year physician assistant students for a medical simulation at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago by giving them scenarios.

“We like to give them examples of things that are common, things they will see regularly, but also things they might not see very often,” he said.

In the practice facility, the patient presents with a specific set of symptoms like fast rate hate, anxious feelings and lack of sleep.

The drill is designed to mimic a real-life scenario.

“It felt like a natural fit to develop a case study that would help tell Greg’s story,” he said.

WGN News first covered Greg Friedman’s story in 2019. At the time, his parents, Ross and Nancy were just beginning to spread awareness about what happened to their son after he took the illicit drug ecstasy or MCMA.

“This drug altered his brain and his universe,” Friedman said.

The synthetic stimulant boosts serotonin and makes you feel good. But as levels plummet in the days following, the drop can cause depression, anxiety and insomnia – all symptoms Greg felt. And he was struggling with another more rare effect. Greg was having psychotic thoughts.

“He needed appropriate treatment and unfortunately didn’t find it,” Ross Friedman said.

What the 27-year-old needed was an urgent psychiatric evaluation and to be kept safe.

“He found a building nearby and fell off the building backward to his death,” Ross Friedman said. “We’ve been advised that Greg suffered a psychotic break that day and it was precipitated by the ecstasy a week earlier.”

The Friedmans have channeled their grief through the GPF Foundation, named for their son, to build awareness and education. They worked with Carlson and others in the medical community to develop a digital learning tool. One they hope will help clinicians avoid the missteps in Greg’s case.

“We are truly dialing into the baseline of the medical profession and providing training to this blind spot,” Ross Friedman said.

Emergency medicine physician Dr Ron Himmelman says the case study, one of the dozens of training scenarios available on the digital platform Full Code, can help students and seasoned professionals. 

“I’ve been around a long time and I learned from it and it tightened up my skills,” he said.

“If we can percentage-wise effect a significant body of the medical world, we know we will save lives,” Ross Friedman said.

The PA students like Georgianna Biggs try it out after their in-person simulation. The objective is not only to spot the signs of psychosis brought on by recreational drug use but to make the best decisions for the patient.

“As a student to know that things like this are rooted in someone’s personal life, someone’s real family tragedies, something they carry with them all the time,” she said. “But it’s also good to know. It’s nice to have those stories to carry along with you, too, because you remember how important what you’re doing is.”

The platform Full Code as well as the GPF Foundation is providing the case study training free of charge and it’s already been accessed more than 20,000 times by medical professionals and students around the world.