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Cost of opioid-treated chronic low back pain: Findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation-based intervention

Aleksandra E. Zgierska, MD, PhD, James Ircink, BBA, Cindy A. Burzinski, MS, Marlon P. Mundt, PhD


Objective: Opioid-treated chronic low back pain (CLBP) is debilitating, costly, and often refractory to existing treatments. This secondary analysis aims to pilot-test the hypothesis that mindfulness meditation (MM) can reduce economic burden related to opioid-treated CLBP.

Design: Twenty-six-week unblinded pilot randomized controlled trial, comparing MM, adjunctive to usual-care, to usual care alone.

Setting: Outpatient.

Participants: Thirty-five adults with opioid-treated CLBP ( 30 morphine-equivalent mg/day) for 3 + months enrolled; none withdrew.

Intervention: Eight weekly therapist-led MM sessions and at-home practice.

Outcome Measures: Costs related to self-reported healthcare utilization, medication use (direct costs), lost productivity (indirect costs), and total costs (direct + indirect costs) were calculated for 6-month pre-enrollment and postenrollment periods and compared within and between the groups.

Results: Participants (21 MM; 14 control) were 20 percent men, age 51.8 ± 9.7 years, with severe disability, opioid dose of 148.3 ± 129.2 morphine-equivalent mg/d, and individual annual income of $18,291 ± $19,345. At baseline, total costs were estimated at $15,497 ± 13,677 (direct: $10,635 ± 9,897; indirect: $4,862 ± 7,298) per participant. Although MM group participants, compared to controls, reduced their pain severity ratings and pain sensitivity to heat stimuli (p < 0.05), no statistically significant within-group changes or between-group differences in direct and indirect costs were noted.

Conclusions: Adults with opioid-treated CLBP experience a high burden of disability despite the high costs of treatment. Although this pilot study did not show a statistically significant impact of MM on costs related to opioid-treated CLBP, MM can improve clinical outcomes and should be assessed in a larger trial with long-term follow-up.


mindfulness meditation, chronic low back pain, opioids, economic evaluation

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