Can Acupuncture Provide a Solution to the Opioid Epidemic? 

In recent years, the opioid epidemic in America has reached critical levels. According to CNN, the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdose has quadrupled since 1999. Although the use of illegal drugs like heroin comprises part of the epidemic, most of the deaths involve prescription painkillers.

Awareness of the risk presented by prescription opioids has led insurance companies, physicians, and patients alike to search for an alternative. One option, acupuncture treatment, provides empirically-proven relief to chronic pain, without the potential for addiction or other negative side effects.

How Acupuncture Works

Dr. Jingduan Yang, founder and medical director of the Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, writes extensively about the benefits of acupuncture in his book, Facing East: It is believed that, based on a Chinese medicine assessment and diagnosis, the stimulation of certain trigger points on the body by acupuncture needles prompts the body to release select hormones and chemicals that can reduce pain, regulate the endocrine system, minimize inflammation, and calm the nervous system. (178)

Acupuncture alleviates pain, nausea, and a variety of other health conditions without the use of drugs. Besides treating chronic pain and other physical conditions, acupuncture can also treat depression and anxiety.

The Evidence

Large-scale studies funded by health insurance companies show that acupuncture can supplement - and, in some cases, replace - the use of prescription painkillers. These private companies have an inherent interest in curbing the opioid epidemic, which has cost them millions in rehabilitation expenses. Governmental institutions are also pursuing acupuncture research. For example, the state of Vermont conducted a $150,000 study into the viability of acupuncture treatment. After the twelve-week experimental period, 91% of respondents reported significant physical, functional/behavioral, and psycho-emotional improvements. Over half reported that they were able to rely less on their prescription painkillers. This study serves as just one example of the growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of such treatment.

The Acupuncture Renaissance

Both public and private institutions have and continue to advocate for the adoption of acupuncture treatment. Organizations like the FDA, the National Association of Attorney Generals, and the World Health Organization have all either supported further research into this therapy or recommended it as a potential solution to the opioid epidemic.

Further, major private health insurance companies like Aetna and Cigna are even beginning to cover the costs of acupuncture treatment. Finally, celebrities like Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, and Jennifer Aniston have publicly championed the benefits of acupuncture. “The integration of Eastern medicine has revolutionized how the West approaches health and wellness,” says Dr. Yang. “The solutions to addiction and chronic pain may lie in methods that combine knowledge from both hemispheres.” To learn more about the Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine and the treatments we offer, visit us at Alternatively, contact us today.

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