In 2016, drug overdoses killed more people than auto accidents or guns, and overdoses are currently the leading cause of fatalities among people younger than 50. Where will this end?
One non-pharmacologic response to the opioid crisis is acupuncture. The East Asian art of acupuncture dates back thousands of years. It is cost-efficient and a highly effective form of adjunctive therapy in the treatment of pain and drug dependence. For less than a dollar’s worth of supplies, a licensed acupuncturist can fasten beads or insert needles into the ear of a patient and significantly reduce opioid craving. This treatment is considered an effective accompaniment to methadone (an inexpensive generic) or buprenorphine/naloxone (marketed as Suboxone).
But the need for Acu Detox as an adjunctive therapy to methadone or Suboxone can be avoided at the source of addiction: post-surgical pain management. Peer-reviewed scientific studies of acupuncture have reported reduced consumption of opioid-like medication, or OLMs, by as much as 60%. In one study, ,acupuncture was found to dramatically decreased the use of opiates and other pain medications in U.S. Air Force personnel. Among those who participated, opioid prescriptions decreased by 45%, muscle relaxants by 34%, NSAIDs by 42%, and benzodiazepines by 14%. Quality of life measures showed impressive changes with some statistical significance (p< 0.001). The Veterans Administration, U.S. Air Force, and other armed services are increasingly looking to utilize acupuncture treatment.
As a result of acupuncture’s effectiveness, a number of federal and state legislators have introduced bills designed to improve patient access. The five-point treatment protocol recommended by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA), known as Acu Detox, involves a five-point ear acupuncture protocol which is safe, effective, and cost effective.
As part of a grant from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, the Won Institute has been providing NADA to veterans and those in recovery at several Philadelphia locations, including a drug recovery center and a Veteran’s service center.
In June, HB 575 unanimously passed the New Hampshire House and Senate. HB 575 specifically referenced NADA and makes it possible for qualified individuals to administer Acu Detox treatments to patients under the supervision of a licensed acupuncturist.
On the federal level, California Congresswoman Judy Chu introduced a bill called the Acupuncture for Heroes and Seniors Act of 2017. The bill seeks to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide Medicare coverage for acupuncture services. It also directs the Veterans Administration to approve the position of certified, trained acupuncturist for civilian employees in the Department of Defense at the grade of GS-12 or higher.
The Won Institute of Graduate Studies and the Acupuncture Professional Association of Pennsylvania (APA) stand together in supporting legislation, both in Pennsylvania and at the federal level, which is designed to make access to acupuncture both simple and affordable. Acupuncture provides effective management for post-surgical pain and chronic pain, as well as a good adjunctive therapy for opioid withdrawal. With more of the first we will have less need for the second. In the shadow of the state’s crushing opioid epidemic, access to acupuncture is more needed now than ever before.