Can Acupuncture Help Turn the Tide on the Opioid Crisis?

As we struggle to come to terms with the widespread devastation of the opioid crisis, a new study by the U.S. Military Healthcare System (MHS) on the efficacy of acupuncture as an alternative for pain control comes at no better time.

By Dr. Kim Graham, TCM
Together We Can – Acupuncturist

Acupuncture has been used to treat PTSD, chronic pain, and other battlefield traumas within the military system for years, but only recently has it really been getting the attention it deserves.

A Google search about acupuncture versus opioid use will quickly point you to numerous studies and research papers on the subject, and this truly speaks to how far acupuncture has come in terms of its acceptance and use within the medical system.

As a practitioner of this medicine for 16 years, all I can say is, “it’s about time.”  Long have I had first hand experience with patients who experience significant improvement in their pain, be it mental, emotional, or physical after only a few treatments. It doesn’t matter where the trauma resides; acupuncture addresses all of it – the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. However, if that’s too esoteric for those who are “science minded”, that’s ok, because now there’s science to back it up.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention back to the most recent study from February, 2018.

The objective was to examine the usage of acupuncture within the MSH to determine who and why patients were accessing acupuncture services. The results showed that of the 15,761 people who received acupuncture in the MHS in fiscal year 2014, most of them were accessing service due to some type of pain either musculoskeletal or nerve and/or related to “system issues.”

For those of you who aren’t “science minded,” that translates to pain physically, mentally, or emotionally, or any combination thereof. This is also known in military circles as the ‘polytrauma triad’ – a fancy name for pain that affects mind, body, and spirit, and is typically treated with opioids and various other cocktails of anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medications along with cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms of therapy.

But, I digress, that is subject matter for another day.

The data in this study showed that at the end of the day, acupuncture was more effective than placebo for addressing pain conditions (of all types) including the treatment of PTSD, and that as there was a growing acceptance of acupuncture for wider usage, suggests its use as an adjunct treatment for multiple conditions could be helpful.

That’s science speak for “it works”, which is all we really needed to know. Right?

Together We Can staff member Dr. Kim Graham, heads our Acupuncture Program, and is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

With eight years of education in Eastern and Western medicine, Dr. Graham is an expert in her field, and has hands-on experience with homelessness, addiction, and mental illness in Vancouver’s DTES and at Harbour Light.

She has been facilitating acupuncture treatments for men in early recovery since 2002, and is an expert at recreating balance and alignment for the processes within the human body.

As an active member of her profession, Dr. Graham also works closely with her profession’s regulatory body (CTCMA) on projects surrounding practitioner competency and public safety, focusing on the development and advancement of TCM in BC. In addition to this, she also sits on the Program Advisory Committee for Kwantlen University’s TCM program, mentors students in a clinical setting, acts as editor-in-chief for a Canadian TCM magazine, and runs a successful private practice.

Dr. Graham has been part of our program development and group facilitation at TWC since 2002. She currently leads weekly acupuncture sessions for all of our first and second stage residents.

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