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Study using Acupuncture for Opioid Withdrawal Yields Promising Results

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

Physical pain associated with opioid withdrawal can greatly interfere with the willpower needed to overcome addiction. The lessening of pain therefore is an important factor in preventing relapse.

A pilot study, conducted by medical researchers from Harvard, yielded very promising results for the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms by combining transcutaneous electric acupoint stimulation (TEAS), with doctor-prescribed Naloxone and buprenorphine to help patients in the opioid detoxification process.

The 48 participants in the study each received 30 minutes of TEAS, three times a day for a total of four days. This therapy involves the application of electrical stimulation at the site of the acupuncture points. Half the patients received real acupuncture treatments while the other half received sham acupuncture. For the sham acupuncture sessions the points on the body that were stimulated did not specifically treat their medical condition.

Two weeks after the treatments concluded, researchers discovered only 29% of the real acupuncture group patients began using opioid drugs again, while 65% of the sham acupuncture group relapsed. Additionally, the group receiving real acupuncture also reported a higher sense of general well-being and felt less physical pain. Plus, they were twice as likely to not take any type of drug at all.

The study titled "A Randomized Trial of Transcutaneous Electric Acupoint Stimulation as Adjunctive Treatment for Opioid Detoxification" appeared in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2010.

Source: J Subst Abuse Treat. 2010 Jan;38(1):12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2009.05.010. Epub 2009 Jul 1.

About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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