From the Journals

Mindfulness intervention curbs opioid misuse, chronic pain


A psychotherapeutic intervention that unites mindfulness training, “third wave” cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and positive psychology significantly reduces chronic pain and opioid misuse, new research suggests.

In a randomized clinical trial, 250 adults with both opioid misuse and chronic pain received either the intervention, called mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement (MORE), or supportive psychotherapy.

Results showed the first group was twice as likely to reduce opioid misuse after 9 months than the latter group.

Dr. Eric Garland, director of the Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development, University of Utah, Salt Lake City University of Utah

Dr. Eric Garland

The intervention was developed by Eric Garland, PhD, director of the Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development (C-MIIND), University of Utah, Salt Lake City. “As the largest and longest-term clinical trial of MORE ever conducted, this study definitively establishes the efficacy of MORE as a treatment for chronic pain and opioid misuse,” he told this news organization.

The findings were published online Feb. 28 in JAMA Internal Medicine.


Study participants included 250 adults (64% women; mean age, 51.8 years) with co-occurring opioid misuse and chronic pain who were randomly allocated to receive MORE or supportive psychotherapy, which served as a control group.

Both interventions were delivered by trained clinical social workers in six primary care clinics in Utah to groups of 6-12 participants across 8 weekly 2-hour sessions.

The MORE intervention, detailed on Dr. Garland’s website, provides sequenced training in mindfulness, reappraisal, and savoring skills.

Mindfulness consisted of meditation on breathing and body sensations to strengthen self-regulation of compulsive opioid use and to mitigate pain and opioid craving by reinterpreting these experiences as innocuous sensory information.

Reappraisal consisted of reframing maladaptive thoughts to decrease negative emotions and engender meaning in life.

Savoring consisted of training in focusing awareness on pleasurable events and sensations to amplify positive emotions and reward.

Fewer depressive symptoms

Through 9 months of follow-up, the MORE group had about a twofold greater likelihood than the supportive psychotherapy group for reduction in opioid misuse (odds ratio [OR], 2.06; 95% confidence interval, 1.17-3.61; P = .01)

“MORE reduced opioid misuse by 45% 9 months after the end of treatment, more than doubling the effect of standard supportive psychotherapy and exceeding the effect size of other therapies for opioid misuse among people with chronic pain,” Dr. Garland said.

Members of the MORE group experienced greater reduction in pain severity and pain-related functional interference compared with members of the control group.

“MORE’s effect size on chronic pain symptoms was greater than that observed for CBT, the current gold standard psychological treatment for chronic pain,” Dr. Garland noted.

Compared with supportive psychotherapy, MORE decreased emotional distress, depressive symptoms, and real-time reports of opioid craving in daily life.

“Although nearly 70% of participants met criteria for depression at the beginning of the trial, on average, patients in MORE no longer exhibited symptoms consistent with major depressive disorder by the end of the study,” Dr. Garland said.

The current study builds on prior studies of MORE showing similar results, as reported previously by this news organization.

MORE can be successfully delivered in routine primary care, Dr. Garland noted. “In this trial, we delivered MORE in conference rooms, break rooms, and lunch rooms at community primary care clinics,” he added.


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