Pain, Opioids, and Acupuncture

The “Opioid crisis” is something we are concerned about, both as practitioners that are involved in helping patients cope with both acute and chronic pain, as well as helping those with various types of addictions (opioids and other drugs, as well as smoking, food issues, and alcohol).
Recently, NPR’s Fresh Air did an interview with Travis Reider, a Bioethicist who was in a severe motorcycle crash a few years ago. His accident resulting in many surgeries, a lot of intense pain, and the need to use opioid medications to manage the pain. What he found was that once he was ready to come off the medications, he didn’t have the guidance and support he needed from his prescribing doctors. They passed him around, “like a hot potato,” seemingly because none of the physicians actually knew how to go about helping a patient come off the medications. One physician actually gave him the poor advice to suddenly reduce his dosage, which resulted in an acute and frightening withdrawal. He tried to consult an addiction clinic and was told that his issue was not as serious as a heroin addict’s and so they could not help him. Once he actually did get though the nightmarish experience of withdrawal from his opioid medications, he found out that cost is a large factor in prescribing these medications. While in the hospital, he received an IV drip of Tylenol which helped his pain significantly and reduced his need for morphine. However, the staff would not continue to administer the medication and told him his liver couldn’t handle it. Later, he found out that IV Tylenol is a patent medication and very expensive, so many hospitals have orders to not use it. Opioids have been off-patent for decades and very inexpensive by comparison.
Travis’ story is compelling and not uncommon. Also discussed in the interview are the compared labels of Medical user Vs Criminal user, from the perspective of Medical Bioethics. Toward the end of the recorded interview (around the 39:00 mark), acupuncture enters the conversation. “Battlefield Acupuncture” is a protocol of ear points used by the military on the battlefield, and it has shown the reduce or even negate the need for opioid medications. The “Battlefield” point protocol is a combo we use in our clinic, and you may have received it if you have acute pain or emotional stress. You can listen to the interview or read the highlights HERE.
The New York Times just ran an article last month about Scotland’s heroin addicts’ aging and their associated chronic diseases and deaths. “We’re seeing diseases that you would associate with old age in a lot of these middle-aged men with a long history of drug use,” said Dr. Carole Hunter, the lead pharmacist for Glasgow Addiction Services. “What your body tolerates at 18 it doesn’t tolerate at 38 or 48.” The United States is right behind Scotland for numbers of drug overdoses (see graph, New York Times).
“There are lessons to be learned internationally as many countries grapple with this,” said Dr. Jeffrey Samet, a professor at Boston University who specializes in substance use disorders.
The NADA protocol is a group of ear points used in addiction medicine. (NADA stands for National Acupuncture Detox Association). These 5 points can also be used in the treatment of various mental health conditions, and disaster & emotional trauma. We use this protocol often in our clinic and people love them. The protocol was created in the 70s for the aid of patients in withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. Many other types of practitioners are able to become trained in NADA ear acupuncture, not just acupuncturists (e.g. chiropractors, nurses, corrections officers, and family members of addicts). The points are designed to control withdrawal symptoms and support the brain and mood. You are always welcome to request these points to be in included into your treatment. Read more about NADA —> here.

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