Let’s not treat opioid addiction with another drug

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Many are heralding the FDA approval of the first injectable treatment option for opioid addiction as the solution to the opioid crisis. But using one drug to treat another, and at a cost of $1,500 per shot, buprenorphine is not the answer. A better solution is a natural and relatively inexpensive treatment – acupuncture.

Acupuncture has been used for drug and alcohol detoxification in the United States for over 30 years. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) created a protocol of five specific acupuncture points on the ear. This protocol is used at over 250 hospitals and over 700 addiction treatment centers to help people withdraw from drugs and alcohol.

The endorphins released from the protocol mirror the effects of the synthetic opioids the body is used to having and is craving. Basically, these endorphins bind to the same receptors that the heroin or Vicodin or Oxycontin were binding to. This significantly reduces the intensity of the craving for the drug and eases the transition from being an active user to being clean and sober.

Simple, safe and extremely effective.

Additionally, many of the withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, insomnia, muscle aches and digestive disturbances are relieved by acupuncture.

As a licensed acupuncturist, I also encourage doctors and pain-sufferers to turn first to alternative therapies such as acupuncture, and for insurance providers to expand their coverage of this completely non-addictive form of pain treatment. Doesn’t it make sense to encourage patients to explore non-prescription forms of pain treatment to avoid addiction in the first place?

For a long time physicians would roll their eyes when patients inquired about acupuncture treatment, but many doctors are starting to come around to recognizing the benefits. In fact, our practice now receives handfuls of unsolicited referrals from doctors every week. The health insurance industry is also getting wise: many policies now cover acupuncture, and some states have even mandated coverage for acupuncture.

But there is still a long way to go.

Recently some major insurance providers have drastically slashed the level of acupuncture reimbursement in their policies. It’s a depressingly short-sighted move. I am grateful to Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and 36 other attorneys general who signed a joint letter to Marilyn Tavenner, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, requesting that insurance companies offer more robust coverage for non-opioid pain management options.

They understand that increased insurance coverage is less costly than the cumulative long-term expense of opiate addiction and its devastating impact on public health. And here I use the word “expense” only in the monetary sense of the word. The psychological and emotional expense of opiate addiction to individuals and families is beyond measure.

Sadly, I speak from personal experience. I know all about the potential of opiates to devastate lives. My older brother, Billy, fought and lost a long battle with heroin addiction. My family and I did our best to support and encourage his recovery. My brother fought valiantly, checking into countless detox and rehabilitation programs.

But the power of Billy’s addiction to opiates was almost unfathomable.

I watched my big brother gradually transform into nothing less than a slave to heroin. While the pain, shame, and regret our family dealt with was excruciating, I can only imagine how agonizing those feelings were for Billy.

My path to acupuncture practice was largely a consequence of my brother’s tragedy. I had watched the medical establishment repeatedly fail Billy. He was bounced from medication to medication and referred from specialist to specialist. I saw firsthand the failings and limitations of modern medicine when it comes to treating chronic pain.

I knew there had to be a better way.

I urge our state’s insurers to do their part to end the opioid epidemic by opening access to acupuncture for residents of Connecticut.

Matt Maneggia, L.Ac. is the owner of Connecticut Family Acupuncture.

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