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NatCon15: The benefits of acupuncture in opioid detox

April 23, 2015
by Julia Brown
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A combination of acupuncture points can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as offer a sense of calmness and groundedness during opioid detox, said Jeanne Supin, MA, partner, Alternative Behavioral Health, at the National Council for Behavioral Health 2015 conference in Orlando.

Despite the ability to stay indefinitley on drugs like Suboxone, she said there are benefits to enlisting an acupuncturist's assistance to help patients successfully detox. Using the example of a close, personal friend who was addicted to heroin, Supin explained that the patient had tried to withdrawal twice in six months, but was only able to do so while undergoing acupuncture.

When detoxing without it, the patient experienced acute anxiety, depression and stomach cramps; foot, leg and back pain when standing or walking; weakness; and after five days resumed Suboxone. When detoxing with acupuncture, the patient had no depression, stomach-cramps, or pain; while she experienced some achiness, weakness and restless legs, she was clearheaded, calm and healthy by day five.

According to Supin there are five points in the ears, one point in the forehead and one point on the top of head that address addiction cravings, and all points were used in the patient's initial sessions. After that, the points changed and addressed her symptoms directly.

Acupuncture is about treating a specific person, in a specific moment, with a specific array of symptoms, she said.

"Every time [the patient] walked out feeling physically better, emotionally calmer and mentally more solid, but the paths to get there each time were radically different,” Supin said. “Practitioners are so specific and everything is so tailored that the best sessions will never be replicated."

According to a 2009 study, Americans spend $33.9 billion on alternative medicine a year—out of their own pocket. And with statistics showing that about 33.2% of U.S. adults and 11.6% of children use complimenting alternative medicine, at least half overall don’t tell their primary providers. The resistance to the practice and implementation of alternative medicine by providers is understanding, she said.

“It’s hard to implement because [it] rests in a radically different paradigm than the traditional medicine paradigm we’re accustomed to,” Supin said, “[But] we are a field dedicated to busting down paradigms ... If five tiny little needles that cost pennies can help people detox with better ease and connect more deeply with people in recovery, certainly that is an idea worth spreading.”

Differences in treatment styles
While Western medicine is more generalized and focused on treating a wide array of people, alternative medicine is individualized and holistic. In addition to the three, standard meta disciplines that modern medicine is based off of—biology, genetics and chemistry—she said alternative medicine incorperates a fourth meta discipline, quantum physics, which suggests that everything can be whittled down to particles.

“The really, really tiny stuff that we don’t see, that we can’t even perceive … that’s what’s underpinning most alternative medicine,” Supin said, explaining that a common misconception is that acupuncture stimulates endorphins. “With all due respect to the brilliant physicians and scientists, their understanding of alternative medicine is flawed and inaccurate.”

Instead, she said, acupuncture is a system of bioenergetics that stimulates flows of energy within the body along channels or meridians governed by the these rules of quantum mechanics.

“Once we begin to understand these rules, we can begin to appreciate the power of alternative medicine,” Supin said.