The Medical Minute: Can Mindfulness Reduce Opioid Dependence?

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With more than 100 people dying from opioid overdoses each day in the U.S., new approaches to treating opioid-use disorders are needed.

Emma Rose, an assistant research professor with Penn State’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, is leading a study that adds twice-weekly, mindfulness-based yoga to treatment plans for patients with opioid-use disorders in rural Pennsylvania.

“We hope to impart skills that help people to stay sober and stay in recovery for longer,” Rose said.

The study divides participants who are receiving medication-assisted treatment in three clinics in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, into two groups, with one group taking two one-hour online yoga classes twice per week for 8 weeks, while the control group will walk for exercise for up to 2 hours per week.

Mindful yoga can impact brain systems that play an important role in the success of addiction treatment — including our brains’ abilities to regulate craving, to adapt to new or changing events, and to ignore distractions, Rose explained.

Online yoga classes can be an attractive option because they are relatively inexpensive and don’t require travel, Rose noted. They may be well-suited to people with busy schedules or those who don’t live near a yoga class location.

If this study yields promising results, it could lead to a larger study in which researchers use brain imaging to measure the impact of mindfulness practices on brain function in patients with opioid use disorders.

Co-investigators on this project are Diana Fishbein, Penn State research professor of human development and family studies and senior scientist at the University of North Carolina; Robert Roeser, professor of human development and family studies and Bennett Pierce Professor of Caring and Compassion; and Scott Bunce, associate professor of psychiatry at Penn State Hershey Medical School. Sarah Bowen, associate professor of clinical psychology at Pacific University, will advise on the use of mindfulness-based interventions in the treatment of addictive behaviors; and Sophia Lamb, a certified yoga teacher, will lead the yoga classes.

This project is funded by the Social Science Research Institute as a pilot project for Penn State’s Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse.


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