A Novel Solution for The Opioid Epidemic

Acupuncture has been used continuously for 4,000 years and has been gaining legitimacy as an alternative to the powerful painkillers behind the nation’s opioid crisis that kills nearly 50,000 people each year.

It’s rise in popularity in particular in the West is attributed in part to its effectiveness in treating pain and in part that larger and improved scientific studies are beginning to prove its effectiveness.

Many of the nation’s respectable institutions recognize acupuncture and alternative medicine as a valid therapy for treating pain, addiction, among many other conditions. The Veteran’s Affairs and the US Military has been using acupuncture for nation’s warriors’ chronic and acute pain, most insurers cover it, the majority of top Universities offer acupuncture and Alternative Medicine to their patients and students. Clinics such as Mayo, John Hopkins, Cleveland and City of Hope all offer acupuncture as an alternative modalities in conjunction with conventional treatments and earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a formal request for comments on the proposal to cover acupuncture treatments in order to prevent further opioid use in patients with chronic pain. (For now, the coverage would be limited to treatment of chronic lower back pain, but with time as results speak for themselves, undoubtedly coverage will expand to other areas and conditions). With all the recognition and endless patients’ testimonies the acceptance throughout the medical and science community has been lukewarm. This is partially because of the difficulty of designing a correct blind study or what’s known as sham acupuncture. Without sham acupuncture it is very difficult to create a placebo control. Placebo is an inert substance (or a procedure) that has no therapeutic effect to compare against the control group. But to date there is still no truly non-inert sham acupuncture. So far, all placebo for acupuncture had some therapeutic benefit, thus creating a bias again it. But more recent and better designed studies are demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of lower back pain, neck pain, fertility and many other conditions.

In my past article on back pain I discussed in detail the origin and treatment of back pain and how acupuncture can help. So here I want to explain how acupuncture is a perfect tool for tackling not only chronic back pain but an opioid crisis itself.

How Acupuncture Works

Although there is no unified theory of acupuncture mechanism, many actions how acupuncture works are well understood. When needles are inserted, the micro injury facilitates blood circulation and healing. Next, stimulating the nerves, body is releasing its natural painkillers called endorphins and enkephalins. Further, the immune system is stimulated via the vagus nerve to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals thus decreasing inflammation. Acupuncture needles also signal the brain to decrease pain responses and to promote healing in the injured area, in addition, it promotes the production of key neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin, dopamine, GABA and acetylcholine and various opioid pathways such as cannabinoid. All these together help to explain the modulatory effect of acupuncture in the treatment of numerous diseases and conditions.

Recent reviews and meta-analyses examining the effect of acupuncture on musculoskeletal pain (neck and back pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia) have found that overall, acupuncture is superior to sham and no acupuncture and that is despite the bias of sham acupuncture against acupuncture.

Opioid Crisis

Opioid crisis has a long and complicated history. Experts are pointing out complex interconnections between genetic predisposition, social, obesity, disability, chronic pain, depression, and substance use that have yet to be properly explored. The root causes of the opioid crisis are both social and structural and it’s critical to delve further into these systemic issues. Until then, when these causes are understood and dealt with, acupuncture can serve as a primary, non-pharmacological method for pain relief.

Acupuncture can significantly decrease health care expenditures, both from the standpoint of treating pain and by helping to avoid painful and costly effects of addiction to opioids, such as costly care, destruction of quality of life and many fatalities due to overdose.

Numerous federal regulatory agencies have advised or mandated that healthcare systems and providers offer non-pharmacologic treatment options for pain. Acupuncture stands out as the most evidence-based, cost effective and currently available treatment modality suitable to meeting this need.

Acupuncture can safely, easily, and cost-effectively be incorporated into hospital settings as diverse as the emergency department, labor and delivery suites, intensive care units, oncological, orthopedic, neurological and many other medical areas to treat a variety of commonly seen pain conditions.

At Artupuncture Wellness Clinic we draw the best from both Chinese and Western Medicine, tying them together holistically and thoughtfully to provide a level of patient care that is decades beyond the current overburdened and outdated healthcare system. Over the past 20 years we have successfully treated over hundreds of conditions and thousands of patients with great results. To make an appointment follow this link: