Open Letter to the Acupuncture Profession Regarding the Opiate Crisis

Dear Acupuncture Profession,

​We're really glad that you care about people dying from drug overdoses. And for people suffering with chronic pain, for whom medication, opiates and otherwise, has been the thin string they hang on to as they try to function in their lives, day after day. Thank you for presenting evidence for acupuncture as a front line treatment in this crisis. When currently every day 90 people die in America from opioid related drugs, it would be really hard not to be affected by this fact in some way. Some of us have a personal connection to people who have died from, or are addicted to opiods. Everyone is alarmed at the rate at which this epidemic is spreading.

Acupuncture, we all agree, can help. With just a handful of inexpensive needles, a place for someone to rest, and reliable protocols, acupuncture can provide relief and sometimes a miracle. The techniques are simple: thin metal filaments placed in the skin to potentiate the body's function and healing. Human bodies want to heal, acupuncture helps push that process along.

What we sometimes do not agree about is who should be able to offer this relief, which in turn, impacts who can access it. For the past several years the profession has been focused on turf warfare, suing other professionals, only to be counter sued in return. This is not a productive use of anyone's resources, least of all the people still not able to access treatment for their chronic pain, or issues related to drug addiction.

Let's just imagine that things suddenly and radically change, and acupuncture becomes widely accessible and affordable, through insurance or other ways. What would it take to provide the 2,000,000 people dealing with opioid addiction in the US with acupuncture treatments on a weekly basis? It would require the 27,000 or so licensed acupuncturists (if all of them are still practicing) to see 74 of those patients each week. It's not impossible to imagine lots of acupuncturists being very willing and eager to take on an additional 74 patients per week, but what about their existing patients? And would these 2,000,000 be able to find an acupuncturist in their area, with convenient hours? who bill insurance?

It would take a lot more infrastructure, and hands on deck to provide a systematic acupuncture solution to the current opioid crisis, not to mention the chronic pain epidemic. Or the stress epidemic. And with all of those people getting acupuncture treatments, it wouldn't be long before more and more people were willing to just give acupuncture a try because someone they knew had tried it and had good results. But this letter isn't about promoting the profession, it's about patients.

If we are agreeing that there is a crisis of epidemic proportions, don't we have a moral and ethical imperative to contribute all that we can, as a profession, to changing this? Stepping up to see lots of patients as acupuncturists is only a part of this obligation. Partnering with organizations, care providers, law makers, and delivery systems is another way to meet this obligation. POCA's Legislative and General Circles recently drafted a statement regarding POCA's position toward addressing the needs of people dealing with chronic pain and drug addiction issues.

POCA’s mission is to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to, and availability of, affordable group acupuncture treatments. Toward this end, and in recognizing that there are limitations on the reach of POCA clinics, POCA Co-op seeks to support further access to acupuncture through the use of acu-detox specialists (ADS) and other technicians trained and/or certified by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). Specifically, POCA Co-op members, clinics and punks wish to use the same type of open source sharing of resources and experience to help our comrades and all people across the U.S. support local NADA type laws, and programs.

Individuals from both POCA Co-op and NADA have already worked together to successfully champion legislation in several states, and both organizations are exploring ways that we can work together toward common goals.

What would it look like if the acupuncture profession were willing to share its tools, rather than enshrine them? What good could come of recognizing that even people with limited theoretical training, but adequate technical training, can be effective? It's clear that the profession cares, but how does that intent translate into action, now, at a time when lives depend on it? Blocking access in the name of sanctity is a contradiction at best, and at worst, it's lives lost.​

It's a relief to know that the profession cares, and as individuals, L.Ac.s in POCA recognize that other L.Ac.s have taken different positions vis-a-vis other non-L.Ac.s using needles. So it seems important at this time to further the dialog about what can be done in the name of this caring; this is an invitation to have that conversation here.


the POCA Legislative Circle and the POCA General Circle

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  1. I know many people who had great experiences with NADA while they were in treatment. They get out, and they’d love to continue acupuncture, but unless there is a POCA clinic nearby, most of them will be unlikely to get acupuncture again – unless they relapse and go back to treatment. That needs to change.

  2. In Virginia, ADS’s can only work within facilities, and there aren’t LAcs willing or able to offer ongoing/frequent treatments.

  3. I volunteer once a week at a local Recovery Center. Some people get NADA before or after a meeting. It’s more for creating awareness about NADA and that recovery and mental health workers are now eligible to be trained. My few hours each week is not nearly enough to meet the need. Actually today, I ran into a patient at the center and it was initially awkward when we recognized each other. It turned out okay. We sat and talked for awhile before they headed into another meeting. anonymity is one reason of so many why we need flexible NADA laws.

  4. For anybody who would like an excellent 30 minute summary of why this letter and this discussion are needed right now, please listen the the first 30 minutes of this public radio program, which is in itself a dialogue among L.Acs who support NADA laws, L.Acs who don’t or who want to limit their impact for turf reasons, and the larger community of healthcare providers, patients, and lawmakers concerned about the opiate crisis:

  5. I have been checking my email for responses from Acupuncture Now Organization and other acu orgs who helped put the white paper together regarding acupuncture and addiction.

    according to Wikipedia, a white papers are a tool of participatory democracy.

    Okay. So, I will repeat the question here, that I posed to my state association: when does the public get to weigh in? The public weighed in loud and clear in New Hampshire at State House hearings, in calls to legislators, in letters to the paper, in letter to the board of acupuncture licensing, and yet again on the radio.