The current opioid epidemic has had devastating consequences on our public health, our healthcare system and countless local communities throughout the country. A 2015 national survey on drug use and health estimated that 92 million adults were using prescription opioids for pain that year, with a staggering 11.5 million of them engaged in misuse. The crisis has reached such a scale that profound changes in pain-management guidelines, treatment models and insurance coverage are being initiated—and acupuncture is a major part of those changes.
Acupuncture is now recommended as a viable nonpharmacological treatment option because it is safe and non-addictive. Furthermore, studies reveal that it works. A published Archives of Internal Medicine studies review that assessed the use of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain involving nearly 18,000 people found it to be an effective and reasonable referral option. New treatment guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommends acupuncture as a nondrug therapy to be used as a first line of treatment for both acute and chronic back pain.
Acupuncture stimulates the brain’s production of endogenous opioids, thus easing pain. It also impacts the levels of various hormones, neurotransmitters and peptides in the central nervous system, including enkephalin, epinephrine, endorphin, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
Acupuncture has many other benefits in addition to pain relief. It is now more frequently recommended in behavioral health treatment for stress reduction, anxiety, panic and post-traumatic disorders, sleep disorders and depression. A Mayo Clinic study using acupuncture to treat fibromyalgia found it to be beneficial for the condition. The study also found improvement in the treatment of fatigue, anxiety and depression. Many major oncology centers even offer acupuncture for numerous adverse conditions.
The U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs medical systems have both used acupuncture for the treatment of pain and behavioral health issues for many years. Two-thirds of military hospitals and other treatment centers now offer acupuncture, according to a recent study. More and more hospitals and community treatment centers are offering acupuncture as part of their comprehensive pain and behavioral health treatment options.
Insurance coverage of acupuncture has been expanding too. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee recently removed prescription coverage for OxyContin. As an alternative to opioids, the insurance company will now cover acupuncture treatment. A growing number of Medicaid programs in states with acute opioid problems have started providing acupuncture for low-income patients. California, Rhode Island, Oregon and Massachusetts cover acupuncture for pain and the latter two also cover it for the treatment of substance abuse.
Acupuncture has proven to be a very safe and effective way to help patients recover and rediscover renewed health, vitality and mobility. Interested in learning more about or trying acupuncture treatment? If so, find a practitioner that is licensed by the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners and holds national board certification by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Although other health specialties explore variations of acupuncture-like treatment that might involve electricity, laser or dry needles, these options have vastly different educational and practice standards than the acupuncture profession, with—not surprisingly—very different clinical outcomes.
Originally featured in Natural Awakenings Columbia. See article here.