Acupuncture for Opioids - One Acupuncturist's Personal Passion

Most acupuncturists find their way into the field fueled by passion and a strong belief in the healing powers of the ancient art.

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For acupuncturist Ryan Gauthier, there’s even more to it.

As the Detroit Free Press reports, after tragically losing his husband of five months to an opioid overdose this past Fall, utilizing acupuncture as a means for pain control is all the more important.

As the opioid epidemic in America continues to grow stronger and claim more and more lives, there’s more pressure than ever to find alternatives to these highly addictive, and often misused prescription pain killers.

Of the epidemic, Gauthier is quoted as saying, “It doesn't matter, your career. It doesn't discriminate (based on) your race, your gender. You can be a (health care) provider trying to help people ... and it can be the person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with."

In fact, the CDC reports staggering statistics including:

·       From 1999 to 2016, more than 630,000 people have died from a drug overdose.

·       Around 66% of the more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid.

·       In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 5 times higher than in 1999.

·       On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Acupuncture has been proven time and time again to help with chronic pain control, as evidenced by both numerous scientific studies a well as thousands upon thousands patient testimonials. By restoring chi, balancing the energy within the body and increasing circulation, swelling can decrease, pain can lessen, and speedier healing can be promoted.

Additionally, acupuncture can help decrease tension and anxiety, as well as promote a sense of overall wellbeing and relaxation – all factors that can attribute to pain control.

Prior to filling the prescription for opioids, acupuncture is well worth your consideration.

Gautheir reflects, "Knowing my own situation and the pain that it caused in my own life, I think it makes me want to work for better regulations, better systems in dealing with people after they’re addicted, trying to help patients reduce their use of opioids," he said.

"Even though we call it a crisis I don’t think we in society realize how bad it really is.”

Is Acupuncture replacing opioids as the treatment of choice for pain?

Stephen Newman of Cleveland, Ohio has for years dealt with two rare and painful conditions. Ankylosing Spondylitis is an inflammatory arthritis of the spine, and common variable immunodeficiency, which is an inherited immune disorder. Both conditions bring with them painful side effects, which Stephen had been dealing with since his teens—back then, he was told it was probably merely growing pains.

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But the pain continued into adulthood. Primarily, Stephen had been treating the discomfort with prescription painkillers. Additionally, he received infusions of antibodies to support his weak immune system. 

Of the medications, Stephen said: "They don't address the underlying cause, so I was still in pain and the damage is being done from the inflammation and autoimmune disorder It was only treating the surface symptom.”

Eventually, Stephen tried acupuncture. "Once I started doing the acupuncture and everything to treat the underlying cause, that's when I really started to get better…my doctors can't believe how well I'm doing now." Acupuncture has helped Stephen so much that his immune disorder recently went into remission.

Hopefully, there will be many more Stephens out there in the future who turn to acupuncture to treat pain and discomfort rather than rely on opioids. In Ohio, Medicaid has recently expanded to cover acupuncture treatments after an opioid task force determined that additional treatments be available for people dealing with chronic pain.

The trend appears to be going in the right direction. According to government surveys, 1 in 67 people say they get acupuncture every year; it may not seem like a lot, but that’s up from 1 in 91 people just a decade ago.

“We have a really serious problem here,” said Dr. Mary Applegate, medical director for Ohio’s Medicaid department. “If it’s proven to be effective, we don’t want to have barriers in the way of what could work.”

The evidence is certainly showing that acupuncture does work, and is much safer than opioids for treating pain.