Meditation: An opioid alternative

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In light of the opioid crisis, doctors are searching for alternatives to help patients in chronic pain. Physical therapy, numbing creams, different drugs – these are all common alternatives.

But here's a new one: meditation.

This out-of-the-box technique helped one woman continue her favorite pastime.

Helen Brindell's love for gardening is easy to see.

"It's what I love to do," she said. "It's what I love to do!"

But what you can't see is Brindell's chronic back pain.

"I couldn't get down like this without a lot of pain or maybe without someone helping me up," she said.

Determined not to take opioids, Brindell was faced with a tough choice. She could get a spinal fusion to help the pain, but that would mean kissing gardening goodbye.

"I was at the point where I wasn't sure what I was going to do, because what I was doing wasn't working," she said.

That's when her surgeon, Dr. Rex Marco, mentioned a third option: a meditation app.

"I don't believe it. I didn't believe it," Brindell said.

But Marco says there's science to meditation. Pain creates a stress response in the body that can cause anxiety, causing a bigger stress response and more anxiety.

"It's this vicious circle which can be slowed down by narcotics or by other mindfulness techniques," Marco said.

And while opioids flood the brain with dopamine, studies show that meditation can increase dopamine naturally.

"There is a scientific reason why this might help you," Marco said.

Brindell says it has helped her manage pain.

"You just feel like … 'Ahh,'" she said.

And it's allowing her to continue doing the hobby she loves.

"I did it! I made all that beauty!" she said of her garden.

Marco recommends a couple apps to his patients: Back Doctor and Stop, Breathe and Think. You can find both of those for free in the App Store. The exercises trigger the body to make endorphins.

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS
RESEARCH SUMMARY
TOPIC: MEDITATION: AN OPIOID ALTERNATIVE
REPORT: MB #4565

BACKGROUND: Meperidine, methadone, and morphine are just a few of the types of opioids that can be prescribed to patients. They are a type of narcotic pain medication that can be used after surgeries or to deal with any chronic pain that may arise. The drug binds to opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain and other parts of the body. They can be given around the clock or just when the pain is sharp. Some things to ask before taking the medicine are if there are any other possible medicines you could take, medical history, how much alcohol you can consume and any other medicine you are taking. This could help determine if the doctor should prescribe them to you because of the risk of misuse and addiction. (Source: https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications#1-2 https://medlineplus.gov/safeopioiduse.html)

MISUSE: Forty-six people die every day from opioid overdose in the U.S. The most common prescribed opioids that lead to death are methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Some of the side effects of opioids are constipation, drowsiness, and vomiting. Muscle pain, anxiety and irritability may begin when you become dependent on the drug to ease the pain. Signs of addiction to the drug are mood swings, feeling high or sedated, too much or too little sleep, depression and taking it more than you should. Ways to avoid addiction are storing them in a safe place, not breaking, crushing or dissolving the medicine, and to follow your prescription. But you can also turn to other methods such as meditation. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html https://medlineplus.gov/safeopioiduse.htm lhttps://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications#3-7)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: In clinical trials, meditation has reduced chronic pain by 57 percent, and it can be reduced up to 90 percent. The exercise helps soothe brain patterns with pain and alters the brain structure so the patient does not feel pain at all. Meditation has been prescribed to help patients deal with arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Rex Marco, vice chairman of orthopedic surgery says that all of his patients now use an app to help them meditate. He says to avoid HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, and tired), which is created by low dopamine. Marco also says that if you are on opioids, this method can help lower your dosage week after week until you will not need it anymore. Besides relieving pain, meditation improves your memory, reaction times and increases mental and physical stamina. (Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindfulness-in-frantic-world/201501/can-mindfulness-meditation-really-reduce-pain-and-suffering)