Many people who go to detox centers to help overcome their dependence on prescription painkillers started using them because they had a legitimate need and were given a prescription from their doctor. However, once their pain subsided they continued to take the pills because they had become addicted. Unfortunately, millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain, so how can these individuals get the relief they need without becoming addicted? Recently, researchers from the University of Utah conducted a study, which found that there may be a way to decrease pain in these individuals while simultaneously reducing prescription opioid misuse.
The researchers developed a new treatment program for pain called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement. The goal of this program is to teach people how to respond to stress, opioid-related cues and pain in varying ways. It did this through the use of three core components – savoring, reappraisal and mindfulness training. The researchers explained that savoring encourages people to focus on the small positive events around them such as a beautiful sunset and get pleasure from that, rather than drugs. Reappraisal helps people take a stressful situation and turn it into a positive one. Finally, mindfulness is about training the mind to focus on the now, rather than the past or future.
“Mental interventions can address physical problems, like pain, on both psychological and biological levels because the mind and body are interconnected,” said researcher Eric Garland. “Anything that happens in the brain happens in the body – so by changing brain functioning, you alter the functioning of the body.”
Reducing pain and drug abuse
To test their theories, researchers examined 115 patients who had chronic pain. Some of the study participants were assigned MORE training, while others were given conventional support group therapy. The scientists explained that an estimated three-quarters of these individuals were misusing painkillers before they began participating in the study. While some of them were taking more pills than their doctors recommended, others were using opioids to help ease their stress. Of the individuals who used the MORE system there was a 63 percent reduction in opioid misuse. This was compared to the 32 percent reduction among individuals who used the support group. Furthermore, the MORE group reported a 22 percent reduction in impairment related to pain, and that was found to last up to three months past receiving the treatment.
“People who are in chronic pain need relief, and opioids are medically appropriate for many individuals,” Garland added. “However, a new option is needed because existing treatments may not adequately alleviate pain while avoiding the problems that stem from chronic opioid use.”
MORE is now being tested to determine whether it could help people who are trying to quit smoking. There is also a future trial planned to see if MORE could be beneficial for people with mental health problems or those who are fighting alcohol addiction.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 9 percent of the U.S. population will misuse opiates at some point during their life. While not all of these people will become addicted to these medications, others will and they may need the help of addiction treatment centers. People who are already addicted to painkillers because they experience chronic pain should not wait for the MORE system to become widely available before they get help. There are many rehabs where they can go to get the help they need, and they can also reach out to their health care providers who can possibly recommend alternative ways for them to reduce their pain without the use of pills.