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U’s Eric Garland offers insights at NIH meeting on using mindfulness as intervention for pain.

By Jennifer Nozawa, public relations specialist, College of Social Work

Eric Garland, associate dean for research in the College of Social Work, presented his work on Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement as an intervention for pain and opioid use at an invitation-only gathering at the National Institutes of Health earlier this month.

The meeting focused on contributions of social and behavioral research in addressing the opioid crisis. Other participants included some of the most accomplished researchers addressing the opioid crisis, senior leaders of numerous federal agencies and leaders of national organizations.

Garland was on a panel focused on “Incorporating Nonpharmacologic Approaches to the Treatment of Opioid Abuse and Chronic Pain Management.”

Garland shared the story of a client he saw in his clinical practice who was seeking treatment for chronic pain and prescription opioid problems. The man had had five back surgeries and after each one had been prescribed escalating doses of opioids.

Garland asked the man to describe a time when his pain didn’t bother him as much and maybe when he didn’t have any pain at all. Garland said the patient told him that on weekends, when his grandkids came over and played in his backyard, he became so focused on them and felt so happy, he didn’t notice his pain.

“For that moment his pain was gone and so was his desire for opioids,” Garland told the group.

Garland described hedonic dysregulation and its role in pain, pleasure and addiction. He said his research has shown Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement, an approach he developed over the past decade, reduces opioid misuse, craving and chronic pain symptoms while increasing responsiveness to natural reward stimuli. Most significantly, Garland said, his research shows this treatment may function by restructuring reward processes.

“If opioid addiction and opioid overdose is ‘death by despair,’ then we need interventions that can promote joy, positive emotions, reward and the sense of meaning in life,” he said.

Garland said being invited to present his research to the distinguished group of senior leaders, renowned scholars and Nobel Prize winners “was truly a peak experience of my academic career.

“But, even more importantly, at the meeting my work was used to directly inform policy and practice aimed at stopping one of the biggest public health crises of our era,” Garland said. “As a scientist and a social worker, what could be more meaningful than that?

“I’m hopeful that this opportunity will allow me to make a positive impact on future research initiatives and national policies aimed at alleviating the human suffering associated with the opioid crisis,” Garland said.

You can watch his presentation, which begins at the 6:07:00 mark, by clicking here.