Methods: In this RCT, a sample of Veterans receiving LTOT (N=62, mean age=59.3±9.9 years) were recruited from primary care and pain clinics, and met study inclusion criteria if they reported chronic non-cancer pain on more days than not and had taken opioid analgesics daily or nearly every day for at least the past 90 days (mean duration of opioid use =9.1±8.1 years). Participants were randomized to MORE or a supportive group (SG) psychotherapy control. At pre- and post-treatment assessments, participants completed a laboratory-based mindfulness meditation practice session while EEG was recorded; EEG was assessed with repeated measures ANOVA. Opioid use was assessed with the Timeline Followback interview and assessed via intention-to-treat analyses conducted via linear mixed modeling. Path analyses examined changes in EEG spectral power as a mediator.
Results: Relative to the SG, participation in MORE was associated with significantly greater increases in frontal alpha [F(1,60)=5.01, p=.029] and theta power [F(1,60)=6.45, p=.014] during mindfulness meditation. In a linear mixed model controlling for pre-treatment differences in opioid dose, the treatment X time interaction was significant, [F(1,110.27) =5.50, p=.02], indicating that participants in MORE exhibited a greater decrease in opioid dose over time than those in the SG. Sobel test results indicated that the indirect effect of MORE on reducing opioid dose by increasing frontal theta power was statistically significant, z=1.97, p=.048.
Conclusions and Implications: In this mechanistic study of Veterans with chronic pain receiving LTOT, we found that a novel mindfulness-based intervention, Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE), increased alpha and theta activation during mindfulness meditation – neural oscillatory changes that mediated the effects of MORE on reductions in opioid dosing. Thus, increasing neural function in prefrontal brain regions through mindfulness-based interventions may have important clinical consequences for patients on LTOT.