Learning & Resource Center Articles
The US Opioid Addiction Epidemic and How Acupuncture Can Help
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM
The US loses approximately one hundred lives a day as a consequence of the current opioid epidemic--addiction and abuse of prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin. If projections prove correct, another half a million more casualties may be on the way over the next ten years. Opioid overdose now ranks as the number one killer for Americans younger than 50 years old.
Opioids are a class of powerful drugs used primarily as a treatment for pain and provide relief in the most excruciating of cases. Morphine, codeine, heroine, fentanyl, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are all classified as opioids.
The High Risk of Addiction to Opioids
Unfortunately, the risk of addiction with these drugs is high because opioids are so effective, and can give users a feeling of euphoria. Short term use of these drugs is the safest option as it lowers the chances of developing a drug tolerance.
Developing a tolerance means a patient must take higher and higher doses of the drug to experience the same euphoric effects. This deadly cycle of increasing drug amounts can destroy lives and lead to a potentially deadly overdose.
Treatment and Recovery from Opioid Addition
In cases where an opioid addict undergoes detoxification, withdrawal symptoms often make the process a terribly difficult experience. Signs and symptoms associated with withdrawal from opioids include: pain, intense emotional anguish, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, hypertension, tachychardia and seizures.
Treatment options for rehabilitation generally include a gradual reduction from the drug. Special drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine can help assuage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. These drugs do not produce euphoric effects and have a lower risk of addiction.
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for Opioid Dependence
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine treats opioid addiction in a holistic fashion. Not only is the physical body addressed, but the heart and mind as well. The heart represents the emotions, and the mind refers to the logical, cognitive functions.
A great start to assisting patients during the rehabilitation process is the utilization of a simple and effective ear acupuncture protocol. The treatment consists of ten acupuncture needles applied to five points on each ear. After needle insertion, all a patient needs to do is sit quietly in a cozy chair for at least 20 minutes, up to one hour.
The selection of ear points includes lung, shen men, autonomic point, liver and kidney. The lung point helps maintain an even, steady breathing pattern. This helps keep emotions such as grief and sadness from becoming an overwhelming burden. Additionally, it supports the respiratory and cardiovascular system. It is particularly useful for addictions related to smoking.
Shen men addresses the stress, anxiety, anguish and depression associated with opioid withdrawal. It also reduces the physical pain which may occur during the process. The autonomic point works on the nervous system by balancing the parasympathetic and sympathetic system. The former calms bodily functions, while the latter speeds things up.
The liver point aids the liver organ in cleansing the blood and removing toxic material. The kidney point is similar in function, as the kidney also plays a major role in ridding the body of harmful substances. A key difference between the points is the emotions they treat. The liver point works to reduce anger and frustration, while the kidney point helps to alleviate fear.
Some patients may require additional acupuncture points. For example, a person manifesting signs and feelings of rage could benefit with the addition of an ear point called limbic system. It reduces aggressive, compulsive behavior which may lead to violence.
How the NADA Protocol Addresses Opioid Addiction
This auricular therapy is known as the NADA protocol which was developed in the 1970’s, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Michael Smith. NADA stands for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, and it originated at the Lincoln Memorial hospital in New York. Dr. Smith created this as a treatment protocol to help the many suffering with heroin addiction in the local community.
The success of the NADA program helped recovering addicts lower their chances of recidivism and increase their chances of entering society as healthy, drug-free individuals. In 1996, the World Health Organization declared acupuncture as a viable method to assist patients in withdrawing from chemical dependencies.
Three reasons why acupuncture receives such high accolades for its success in treating opioid addictions, and other substances as well, is due to its simplicity, cost-effectiveness and absence of negative side effects. It is also safe for patients of virtually any age group, and in most cases, for pregnant women.
Sometimes it is not only the patients who need treatment, but family members and loved ones who also suffer as their loved ones go through the withdrawal process. Application of the NADA protocol is safe for them and may help in dealing with their heavy emotions. It is support for the support team, so to speak.
With an estimated 2.5 million people dealing with opioid addiction, safe and effective methods are needed more than ever to curb this national public health crisis. Whether the addiction is from doctor prescribed opiates, or illegal street drugs like heroine, acupuncture and Oriental Medicine provides tried and powerful treatments.
Find an Acupuncturist to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you!
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.