Public Release: 

CU Denver researcher studies opioid addiction treatment for patients with chronic pain

Now recruiting patients for clinical research funded by National Institute of Health

University of Colorado Denver

The University of Colorado Denver and assistant psychology professor Dr. Amy Wachholtz, PhD, MDiv, MS, were awarded more than $700,000 in funding by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to study treatments for chronic pain sufferers who become addicted to opioids. Recruitment is underway to enroll study patients for this clinical research.

"No treatments have yet proven effective for simultaneously addressing chronic pain and opioid addiction, and this is evident in the high rates of opioid recidivism among pain patients," said Wachholtz, who founded the Comorbid Opioid Addiction and Pain (COAP) Lab in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at CU Denver. "Our ultimate goal is to introduce evidence-based treatment that helps break the cycle of relapse.

Clinical research is underway, and the COAP Lab is looking for men and women ages 18-65 for 12 weeks of no-cost group therapy sessions and specialized appointments to research new techniques to reduce substance abuse and pain. To learn more, visit or contact the COAP Lab CU Denver at 303-315-7036 or

Wachholtz's clinical research is measuring the effectiveness of pain management treatments, including cognitive behavioral and self-regulation therapies, in combination with therapies already proven effective for opioid dependence. The study comes at a time when opioid overdose deaths are at an all-time high in Colorado, according to the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

The treatment protocol being studied is designed to be used in combination with Medication Assisted Treatment in community addiction treatment centers. It is the first study of combined treatment for comorbid pain and opioid addiction that addresses the psychology, physiology, and social aspects of chronic pain and opioid addiction.

With the NIH funding, Wachholtz is also developing a training program for community addiction counselors who generally receive no training in chronic pain.

Wachholtz's earlier research revealed that pain patients experience a major change in their pain tolerance when they become addicted to opioids. In her work at the COAP lab, she's made progress in helping patients understand their individual pain sensitivity learn mechanisms to better tolerate pain.

"Opioid addiction is an enormous public health crisis that is taking a human and financial toll on Coloradoans," said Wachholtz. "We need to address this crisis through better treatments that addresses the psychological and physical needs of the patients."


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