CU Denver To Study Treatments For Both Pain And Addiction

Nov 5, 2018

More than $700,000 from the National Institute of Health's Institute of Drug Abuse is headed to the University of Colorado Denver to study treatments for people who suffer from both chronic pain and opioid use disorder.

Chronic pain and opioid abuse often go hand in hand, according to researcher Amy Wachholtz. Some people may have suffered an injury or illness that lead to being prescribed opioids. Others started using the medication first and because opioids make the body more sensitive to certain types of pain. They then developed a pain issue. Also opioid use disorder can lead to living a more dangerous lifestyle where injuries could occur.

"Since they're so tightly intertwined it makes more sense to address the biology, the psychology of both issues at the same time," said Wachholtz, assistant professor of clinical health psychology. "Nobody's done that before."

Wachholtz will run the study out of her Comorbid Opioid Addiction and Pain (COAP) Lab in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Participants will attend a 12-week group therapy session and take part in psychotherapy treatments that are already established in pain and addiction psychology. The treatments include relaxation exercises, identifying pain flare triggers and finding a healthy social network that does not encourage overuse of opioids.

The study won't adjust participants' medication.

"Whatever medications they come in on the study is where they're at," she said. "But we want to see if we can help them get their lives back."

The goal of the study is to take these treatments out of the lab for long-term use in community addiction centers, Wachholtz said.

The study will be accepting applicants on a rolling basis until spring 2020.