Nikki Harper – Here at (Wake Up World) we’ve reported on the opioid addiction crisis several times. The statistics make for grim reading indeed, with more than 130 people in the US dying every day as a result of opioid addiction, including the misuse of prescription painkillers . However, with over 20% of the US population experiencing chronic pain  and with opioid painkillers frequently being prescribed to this demographic, the crisis shows little sign of abating.
One of the root causes of the problem is the way in which long term opioid use blunts the senses. Despite a short term improvement in mood when opioids are first taken, over time they alter the brain chemistry of the body’s reward recognition system, dulling the patient’s ability to feel pleasure in life’s ordinary joys – time with family, or beautiful scenery for example . This means that patients have to take more opioids just to feel ‘normal’ again, and thus the cycle of addiction begins.
However, hope could be on the horizon, in the form of mindfulness training. Two new studies have independently shown that patients trained to use mindfulness techniques show an increased appreciation of day to day joys and fewer opioid cravings, as well as less chronic pain overall.
The first study, from the University of Utah, worked with 135 adults who take opioids daily for chronic pain. Half of the patients were randomized to an 8-week mindfulness training course, with half randomized to a therapist-led support group. EEG readings were taken at the beginning and end of the 8-week period, and the results, published in the journal Science Advances, were clear: those who took part in the mindfulness training were significantly less reactive to cues around their opioid medication and significantly more reactive to ordinary pleasures, when compared to the support group only patients .
This study used a specially designed mindfulness training program, called MORE – mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement, which was designed by Eric Garland, associate dean for research at the University of Utah College of Social Work and lead author of the study. The program teaches techniques to help patients notice and appreciate the good things in their lives, as well as techniques to find meaning in life’s problems. It is thought therefore that these patients are at lower risk of becoming addicted to opioids.
“Our nation’s opioid crisis kills more than 100 people a day,” said Garland. “So it is critical that we help develop new and effective ways to prevent opioid misuse. The data shows that MORE can play that key role.” 
The second study, at Rutgers University, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, examined the use of mindfulness training alongside medications for opioid addiction. The subjects of the study were 30 patients with chronic pain and opioid addiction. Some of the patients received mindfulness training, while others received normal counseling; both groups continued to have methadone maintenance therapy to treat their addiction.
The results showed that those who received mindfulness training were 1.3 times better able to handle their cravings and also showed significant reductions in pain and stress and improvement in positive emotions, compared to those who received standard counseling .
Although methadone maintenance therapy has been shown to be effective in treating opioid addiction, nearly half of treated patients continue to take opioids during treatment or relapse within six months  so the addition of mindfulness training to this treatment program could be a major boost to success rates, the results suggest.
For those in the US who are prescribed opioid painkillers, between 21 and 29% will go on to misuse the drugs, with 8-12% developing full addiction . We already know that mindfulness has a host of other physical and psychological benefits, from impulse control and depression management to weight loss and lower blood pressure . If mindfulness can play a role in reducing or managing the current opioid addiction crisis, that will be one more benefit to this incredible technique.
SF Source Wake Up World Dec 2019