Medical Acupuncture: A Promising Solution to the Opioid Crisis

For 3,000 years, acupuncture has been a trusted technique used by health care providers in many parts of the world. Today, a growing number of physicians are offering acupuncture as part of an integrative health care practice.  Can acupuncture help us solve the opioid crisis in America? 

Stopping the Cycle of Chronic Pain

Modern medicine has made tremendous strides in the treatment of many diseases and health conditions, most of which were incurable or untreatable in the past. This also holds true for the management of acute pain following trauma, surgery, and other self-limited illnesses. 

Unfortunately, despite these substantial advances in modern science, millions of people around the world suffer from unresolved chronic pain.

Many powerful pain medications temporarily reduce or abolish pain, but they don’t address the underlying causes of discomfort, so the pain comes back when the medication wears off. To make matters worse, these medications are frequently addictive and, over time, become less effective so more and more medication is required to stop the pain. This creates the dangerous cycle that has led to the modern-day opioid crisis, which has had enormous health, financial, and social implications on our families, our communities, and our country.

Acupuncture Targets the Problem, Not Just the Symptoms

Though “modern medicine” has long been skeptical of acupuncture’s place in Western health care, a growing base of solid research and science points toward the many benefits of acupuncture, chief among them its significant pain relieving properties.  

Statements made by some of the most trusted medical groups in this country — including the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Pain Society — support the use of acupuncture as part of a treatment plan for patients with chronic pain.

Acupuncture is safe, has no addictive potential and costs less than most medications. Perhaps more importantly, it has favorable effects on various physiological systems in the body, so it often addresses the underlying causes of pain. All these attributes make it almost ideal for treatment of pain.

Working with a Medical Acupuncturist to Prevent or Treat Opioid Addiction

With the judicious use of medicine and acupuncture during an acute pain problem, a medical acupuncturist may be able to prevent its progression to chronic pain, thereby eliminating the need for long-term opioid therapy, which would be ideal. For patients who have been in chronic pain and are addicted to opioids, medical acupuncturists are well equipped to be part of the team that can safely taper pain medications, using acupuncture and other adjunctive medications as necessary.

Addiction affects a victim’s body, mind and spirit. Acupuncture appears to have a beneficial effect on all three aspects and should be considered an important component of a multidisciplinary approach to opioid dependence, and in the treatment of opioid or other substance addiction. 

Given our collective experience and clinical knowledge, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture strongly supports the scientific findings that medical acupuncture can play a crucial role in fighting the opioid crisis.