The United States is experiencing an opioid crisis—each day at least 130 people die from an overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s even more sobering to realize that 46 of those people die from overdosing on opioids prescribed by their doctors.
There are still millions of people suffering from chronic pain, however, and they are still prescribed opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone to treat their pain. The problem is that roughly a quarter of them end up misusing their prescriptions.
A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is giving those people with chronic pain new hope. Research from the University of Utah found that mind-body interventions like meditation can help reduce pain in people who’ve been taking prescription opioids as well as lead to overall reductions in the drug’s use.
“A study published earlier this year projected that by 2025, some 82,000 Americans will die each year from opioid overdose,” says Eric Garland, lead author on the study and associate dean for research at the University of Utah College of Social Work. “Our research suggests that mind-body therapies might help alleviate this crisis by reducing the amount of opioids patients need to take to cope with pain. If all of us—doctors, nurses, social workers, policymakers, insurance companies and patients—use this evidence as we make decisions, we can help stem the tide of the opioid epidemic.”
The researchers evaluated a range of mind-body strategies, including meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, and cognitive behavioral therapy. They concluded that two of the mind-body therapies examined—meditation/mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy—might have the highest clinical impact since they are so widely accessible and affordable.
As doctors have prescribed fewer opioids to help address the epidemic, people who live with chronic pain have had to find alternative treatments. Garland, who is also the director of the University of Utah’s Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development, says that doctors who use mind-body therapies focus on changing behavior and the function of the brain with the goal of improving quality of life and health.
“These findings are critical for medical and behavioral health professionals as they work with patients to determine the best and most effective treatments for pain,” he says.
Originally published on Spirituality & Health.