Choosing Acupuncture for Pain Relief In Response to the Opioid Crisis

Chronic pain is a significant public health problem, affecting up to 47% of the U.S. population
with an estimated annual cost burden of upwards of $635 billion. Chronic pain is a complex
bio-psychosocial phenomenon that affects a person’s psychological and emotional health,
ability to work, and social function, and has been linked to premature death as well as an
increased risk of suicide.

In an attempt to treat chronic pain, opioid prescriptions have grown rapidly over the past
decades leading to a rise of adverse consequences of opioid use (misuse, addiction, injury and
death). Nonopioid analgesics are also associated with significant harm and physicians and
patients need effective and safe strategies for managing chronic pain.

Given the substantial body of evidence demonstrating that acupuncture is effective for chronic
pain, the 2016 Vermont legislature commissioned a study to assess acupuncture for patients
with chronic pain in the Vermont Medicaid population in which a total of 156 Medicaid patients
were offered up to 12 acupuncture treatments within a 60-day period at the offices of Vermont
licensed acupuncturists. After receiving between 8 – 12 acupuncture treatments, 57% of
patients using analgesic (nonopioid) medication reported reductions in use and 32% of
patients using opioid medication reported reductions in use of opioid medication following the
intervention. Moreover, researchers found significant improvements in group pain intensity/
interference, physical function, fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, and social
isolation as assessed by Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System
(PROMIS) measures.

Conventional medicine is at a crossroads. The drugs-and-surgery dominant approach to pain
is costly and incomplete and patients end up misdiagnosed and overmedicated for problems
acupuncture could help. When administrated by a trained professional, acupuncture plays a
significant role in pain management, improving quality of life and overall well-being well into the
golden years.

Robert T Davis, MS, LAc, Gary Badger, MS, Kristina Valentine, MS, Alexander Cavert, MS, Remy R Coeytaux, MD,
Acupuncture for Chronic Pain in the Vermont Medicaid Population: A Prospective, Pragmatic Intervention Trial;
Academy Consortium For Integrative Medicine And Health, April 10, 2018.

Posted in: Acupuncture

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