Meditation: Better Than Opioids?

Having grown up in a medical family—with a physician father, a teacher for a mother, a stepmother who is a dietician, and an extended family full of nurses, doctors, philosophers and community leaders—it’s no surprise I feel drawn to explore the many facets of well-being.

Drugs were never the first solution to curing ailments in my family. Good food, restful sleep, plenty of exercise, and togetherness as a family were the pillars of good health. This belief system has stayed with me and served me quite well into middle age.

Data supporting wholistic approaches to health keeps flooding in. In a recent blog published through the NIH, Dr. Wen G. Chen, brand chief of NCCIH’s Complementary and Integrative Health division, confirms that meditation is better than opioids for pain management and reduction.

The economic cost of this epidemic is staggering. Estimates by the NIH place at least eleven percent of Americans as living with chronic pain. Health care costs to pain patients is estimated between $261 to $300 million* annually. If that number wasn’t shocking enough, factor in the economic impact and lost  productivity to business: days of work missed (ranging from $11.6 to $12.7* billion), hours of work lost (from $95.2 to $96.5* billion), and lower wages (from $190.6 to $226.3* billion). At a minimum, the total financial cost of managing pain ranges from $560 to $635 billion*.

I find this to be an astounding figure, especially having been raised with a preventive attitude toward personal health. Granted, some situations call for medication or surgery. But more often than not meditation can be the better solution to pain management.

Why meditation is better than pain relievers:

When opioid receptors in the brain are blocked, mindfulness meditation neuro pathways find their way to eliminate pain or at the very least aid in the management of pain.

While this news may not be sexy for the pharmaceutical industry, it sure is to me. Anytime we take greater mastery over our own well-being, tuning in to our keen inner sense of right and wrong, we sharpen our ability for self-care. As I always remind my students and clients, “self-care is not selfish.”

By taking more engaged responsibility for our health, and choosing meditation over medication, we may find ourselves better able to cope with pain with less expense, less risk of addiction, and better function in our work and home lives.

*All financial estimates are in 2010 dollars.

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