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Neuropsychopharmacologic effects of long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) in the context of chronic pain may result in subjective anhedonia coupled with decreased attention to natural rewards. Yet, there are no known efficacious treatments for anhedonia and reward deficits associated with chronic opioid use. Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE), a novel behavioral intervention combining training in mindfulness with savoring of natural rewards, may hold promise for treating anhedonia in LTOT.
Veterans receiving LTOT (N = 63) for chronic pain were randomized to 8 weeks of MORE or a supportive group (SG) psychotherapy control. Before and after the 8-week treatment groups, we assessed the effects of MORE on the late positive potential (LPP) of the electroencephalogram and skin conductance level (SCL) during viewing and up-regulating responses (i.e. savoring) to natural reward cues. We then examined whether these neurophysiological effects were associated with reductions in subjective anhedonia by 4-month follow-up.
Patients treated with MORE demonstrated significantly increased LPP and SCL to natural reward cues and greater decreases in subjective anhedonia relative to those in the SG. The effect of MORE on reducing anhedonia was statistically mediated by increases in LPP response during savoring.
MORE enhances motivated attention to natural reward cues among chronic pain patients on LTOT, as evidenced by increased electrocortical and sympathetic nervous system responses. Given neurophysiological evidence of clinical target engagement, MORE may be an efficacious treatment for anhedonia among chronic opioid users, people with chronic pain, and those at risk for opioid use disorder.
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