U of U researchers developing treatment for veterans with chronic pain

SALT LAKE CITY -- New research into opioid abuse treatments could save thousands of lives, and a local assistant dean of research at the University of Utah is doing just that.

The federal government gave Eric Garland, assistant dean of research at the U of U's College of Social Work, $3.4 million to study a psychological treatment for chronic pain sufferers, specifically veterans and active-duty service members.

His treatment is called MORE: Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement.

It measures brain function by taking “photographs” of activity to see how the body and mind responds to different stress forms.

“That program involves various mental training techniques that will help patients to cope with pain and reduce distress and improve their quality of life,” Garland said.

Jennifer Brown, a 30-year-old Army veteran living in Utah, said she is thrilled about Garland’s new study.

Brown suffers from multiple injuries she suffered while she served. She was a helicopter mechanic, and in one incident she had to jump out of a helicopter and was injured on her landing.

She also deployed oversees to Afghanistan for 13 months in 2010 and 2011. When she returned she found she was dealing with chronic pain, and chronic pain treatment. Her family is a military family and also has a history of chronic pain.

“My mother was a Marine,” Brown said. “She's got chronic pain, impact damage and issues, and she has, unfortunately, struggled for a good several years with opioid addiction and is flagged in most pharmacies across the Salt Lake Valley. She can’t fill a prescription one day early or else they call her a criminal.”

Brown refuses to get hooked on opioids. She uses a cane to assist her walking because of fibromyalgia in her leg and back pain.

“I try not to think about it because it breaks my heart to know I have a 10-year-old child and a 2-year-old child who may not even graduate high school before I am in a wheelchair and not even able to function from basically my hips down because I refuse to stop moving,” Brown said.

She believes in what Garland is doing. Brown also works at the Veterans Support Center at the U of U.

“I know it could work,” Brown said. “I know that could work, and I believe that it can work.”

Brown said her faith in the program is reflective of her lifelong optimism.

“Why am I so confident?” Brown replied to a question, “Because I can't afford not to be confident. If I wasn't confident I wouldn't be here alive today.”

The study will last five years. The goal is reducing dependence on opioids, and getting a successful treatment into VA centers nationwide.

For more details of the study and previous research on this form of treatment, click here.