The Role Of Acupuncture In The Midst Of The Opioid Crisis
The current opioid epidemic has become a well-known topic of discussion, with national health leaders, recovery advocates and families talking about the issue nationwide. From governmental funding to prescriber guidelines, continued improvements have been made toward ending the epidemic – good news for those who have experienced addiction or whose loved ones have been afflicted.
Though changes are underway, there continues to be a push for understanding or offering alternative therapies in both the medical environment and treatment centers, both to stop perpetuating the abuse cycle of opioids and to provide remedy when recovering. Among the many alternative therapies that exist – meditation, yoga, art therapy – is acupuncture, which many believe could be a promising conduit to both preventative and treatment mechanisms concerning opioid use and abuse.
A January 2016 letter from the Joint Acupuncture Opioid Task Force, Acupuncture Now Foundation and the American Society of Acupuncturists outlines several benefits of acupuncture in the midst of the opioid crisis, stating “acupuncture has the potential to reduce or even in some cases eliminate the need for opioids and non-opioid drugs while also helping to treat opioid addiction.” Researchers believe acupuncture can replace opioids through stimulating the production of the human body’s “endogenous opioids” – using the body’s own chemistry to mirror or exceed the benefits of synthetic drugs without the risk of side effects.
Acupuncture has many benefits, including stress reduction and pain relief; however, psychologically, acupuncture is also reported to increase the levels of various chemicals in the central nervous system – enkephalin, epinephrine, endorphin, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
Though there are numerous advantages of acupuncture related to stress, sleep and aiding in pain management, a publication released earlier this year in the journal Chinese Medicine states there is a lack of evidence that acupuncture has a strong effect in the treatment of addiction.
The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was established in 1985, with its protocols being practiced in over 250 hospitals and treatment centers in the U.S. and U.K. to use acupuncture to aid in detoxification. In 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) accepted acupuncture as a therapy for drug treatment, followed by acceptance from the National Institutes of Health in 1997 that acupuncture was an accepted alternative therapy to Western medicine. Today, it’s estimated that over 700 addiction treatment centers use acupuncture as an alternative and adjunctive therapy.
The April 2016 study “Acupuncture therapy for drug addiction” aggregated and studied the numerous journals and clinical research studies that have been conducted – over 161 fairly recent studies, from years 2000 to 2014, were analyzed by the group. In their analysis, the studies were separated based on how acupuncture was being used and what it was treating – alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, opiates and morphine. The study contained flaws, however, which included a lack of clarity and much variance among sample sizes, treatment duration and study protocols. Despite the disclosed shortcomings of the study, it appeared there were many studies that reported to yield positive results initially. However, when many of these studies were replicated there was only average to no results that acupuncture showed a strong case in the treatment of addiction.
The publication and its findings show that though there may be benefit in acupuncture therapy for some, acupuncture has yet to show strong value as a standalone treatment for addiction.
But what about the current opioid epidemic at hand? The letter presented to the CDC earlier this year indicates that acupuncture shows promise as an alternative therapy for pain management and other conditions, thereby helping to stop opioid addiction – as opposed to the continued use of strong and harmful opioids that perpetuate the epidemic. Though acupuncture has yet to show a strong, scientific value on a widespread basis for treating addiction, it may be a viable opportunity to continue reducing the number of opioids that are prescribed, thus reducing the likelihood of becoming addicted.
Acupuncture could help foster more alternative offerings for patients and solutions for physicians adhering to new CDC prescriber guidelines. Yet, it continues that a holistic approach must be followed concerning addiction treatment, and a one-size-fits-all solution has yet to be found, and may not exist. Though, continued research is surely needed, and those who find reprieve and help through acupuncture or other alternative means must, with consultation from their medical provider and clinical consultants, continue the therapies that improve their personal recovery outcomes.