Acupuncture for Addiction Recovery Now Officially Legal in West Virginia

Acupuncture for Addiction Recovery Now Officially Legal in West Virginia

Acupuncture may have been used for thousands of years in China, but it's a relative newcomer to most addiction treatment providers.

However, all that might change soon, because the state of West Virginia has just passed a law legalizing certification in a specialized form of acupuncture to be used as an adjunct to standard addiction treatment. And other states may soon follow.

House Bill 2324 extends licensing in "auricular acupuncture" for physicians, chiropractors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers, counselors, psychologists, occupational therapists, paramedics and corrections medical officers who undertake specialized training in the technique.

Auricular acupuncture involves "the gentle placement of up to five small, sterilized disposable needles into five sites on each ear" which are said to "stimulate certain organs and correlate to a person's heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and nervous system," according to Barbara Weaner, a family nurse practitioner in Tucker County, WV and one of the bill's major advocates.

Speaking to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Weaner said these "simple pricks can help alleviate the physiological effects of withdrawal, such as headaches and nausea, or sedate cravings for those in long-term recovery. They also can be effective in treating emotional trauma and reducing stress."

Certification by NADA

Certification in the technique will be provided by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, or NADA. The word "detoxification" in the organization's title is slightly misleading, since the technique is not intended to replace standard detox or rehab methodologies or modalities, but rather help ease the process for patients.

In fact, NADA's own materials state that auricular acupuncture is commonly used not just for addiction recovery, but also for behavioral (mental) health, disasters and emotional trauma, among other applications.

Auricular acupuncture has been widely available by acupuncture providers here for decades, for everything from post-operative pain relief to quitting smoking. Acupuncture is often employed by patients and physicians seeking an avoidance of opioids for common back pain and headaches, as well as difficult fibromyalgia and even post-operative pain and nausea.

A report in the UK's IBTimes states that beginning in 1974, recovery staff at South Bronx's Lincoln Recovery Center began a 10-year study "developing the basic five ear-points NADA protocol for the treatment of addiction."

Today, NADA trains health providers in the USA and Canada on the use of the "simple, safe and standardized ear acupuncture protocol." It also provides "education, consultation and assistance in establishing and sustaining ear acupuncture services within behavioral health and addiction treatment programs" and is a public advocate for wider use of acupuncture.

Complementary therapies

Acupuncture is certainly not the only secondary or alternative treatment modality in use to help avoid the side effects of pharmaceuticals. As their popularity grows among the public at large, the treatment industry is adapting along with them. In many cases, the insurance industry has been catching up and coverage is expanding.

Some popular and effective alternative therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Neurofeedback
  • Massage Therapy
  • Advanced Physical Therapy Techniques
  • Chiropractic Therapy
  • Energy Work - Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, etc.
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Hypnosis

Complementary and alternative modalities can be helpful adjuncts to addiction treatment of all kinds. Many patients suffer from various conditions causing physical and/or emotional pain or discomfort during standard medical detoxification as well as during long-term recovery. Of course, psychoactive and especially addictive medications are to be avoided for these patients and all other patients if possible.

Millions of Americans use acupuncture

The Center On Addiction, formerly the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, devotes a full page to the role of acupuncture in addiction treatment. So do literally dozens of other organizations in the field.

The Center says that although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, there is "very little research that supports the effectiveness of auricular acupuncture for the treatment of addiction."

The apparent lack of clinical studies has not deterred the use of acupuncture by countless patients in recovery, however. As early as the 1970s and perhaps earlier, anecdotal evidence from countless patients receiving acupuncture help at many addiction treatment and recovery centers across the country strongly suggests that acupuncture does help relieve stress, anxiety, pain and nausea associated with various stages of recovery.

Dr. Linda Richter, Director of Policy Research and Analysis at the Center, told the UK's IBTimes recently that the Center's 2012 report, Addiction Medicine: Closing the Gap between Science and Practice, describes acupuncture as "one of several types of alternative/complementary interventions used in addiction treatment." She added that it has traditionally been used primarily for cocaine addiction. More recent evidence points to usefulness across the whole gamut of substance use disorders.

Finally, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, auricular acupuncture is "useful when used as a supplement to evidence-based therapies, but should not be promoted or used in place of treatments that have been proven effective for people with addiction."

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